Howdy Neighbor

I’ve just finished a month with an electric motorcycle — a Zero Motorcycles DSR.

It’s been an eye-opening experience, and frankly more fun than I could have possibly imagined, mostly as a direct result of its simply incomprehensible levels of acceleration.

The Historian Lord Acton wrote “Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”.

Color me absolutely corrupted.

Being able to pass any vehicle on the road temporarily turned me into the silent terror of America’s highways. Presented with any opportunity for a conspicuous display of my ability to bend the space-time continuum at will, I bent it.

I did find that this behavioral tendency tended to attract a lot of unwanted attention from owners of very expensive hypercars, who saw in me and the quickly disappearing Zero a rare opportunity for competition. What none of them understood was their conspicuous automotive expenditures only bought them advantage at hyper legal speeds where I had no interest in going. At speeds between 40 and 90 miles an hour, their six figure conveyances might have well been a 1961 Rambler American.

But that’s not really why we’re here.

If the first question everyone has about an electric bike is “How fast will it go?” , the second one inevitably is “How far will it go?”.

And truthfully, in this transitional time before the ubiquitous gasoline fueling infrastructure that took 100 years to mature gets pushed aside by the electric recharging infrastructure that will inevitably replace it, how far an electric vehicle will go is a far more pressing question.

When a gasoline-powered vehicle runs is running out of fuel, unless you are in one of the truly desolate places in America or have been a unique combination of well above average unlucky and well below average smart, one just stops at the next gas station that presents itself, takes 5 minutes to refill your tank, and gets back on the road.

When an electric vehicle starts hitting its energy red zone, one’s options are far more limited. In electric automobiles that support the J1772 fast charging standard, there are a limited number of public chargers that can be used – some in office parks, some at businesses that cater to clientele of an environmental bent — but even those fast chargers, if one can locate one, do not compare with the speed and ease of petroleum refueling.

If, however, you are riding a Zero Motorcycle with the stock charger, the message is even more mixed. The good news is that any standard electric plug will recharge the bike. The bad news is if one is fully discharged, a full charge will take roughly 8 hours.

In the time that I rode the Zero, I quickly developed a feral ability to sniff out unguarded electric plugs. I spent a lot of time slinking around in alleys, in the service ways behind buildings, and generally behaving like an electron junky.

I got, if I can pat myself on the back, pretty good at it, too.

This lack of easy or socially acceptable recharging options leads to condition called ‘range anxiety’. In almost all of my time with the bike, good planning made range anxiety a non-issue. A 43 mile ride to work, a parking garage with a plug, and a 43 mile ride home had me operating in the top 40% of my ‘tank’ during commuting duty — totally anxiety free.

As a motorcycle tester, I feel like I have a professional obligation to test all aspects of the motorcycles I test — good and bad — and if need be, to ‘test to destruction’ to see what the absolute limits of the machine might be. In the case of an electric motorcycle, there was a part of me that felt it was necessary to get deep into range anxiety — if need be, to the point where range anxiety went totally pear shaped — in order to truly understand the fundamental nature of the machine.

If a potential owner might have to deal with it, so did I.

 

***

 

I was going to have to return the Zero to its manufacturer the next afternoon. I knew I was really going to miss having it around, so I structured my last day with it so I could take a long ride and really put it though its paces one last time.

After getting some chores done, I geared up, booted up the Zero and took to the road. The Zero is an excellent dirt road motorcycle – light, rigid, well suspended and riding on a set of truly dirtworthy Pirellis – so I resolved to head south across the Potomac into Virginia, where I knew there was a sizable network of unpaved roads in the rural highlands just south of the River.

Right after turning off of US 15 South into Lovettsville Road, Furnace Mountain Road cuts nearly straight up the cliff face and heads into the Potomac Highlands. This is a road that would probably be better on a 250 motocrosser, as it is steep, rutted and the turns are tight, decreasing radius bends. As long as one stands up, counterweights the pegs, and is judicious in application of the Zero’s throttle, the bike is confidence inspiring and holds its lines well. Furnace Mountain is lined with small pastures filled with horses, and the bike’s near silence is a treat as the horses don’t spook and stay near the fencelines to see the human as he flies quietly by.

After a few miles of dusty sliding, Furnace Mountain dumps back out a few miles further up Lovettsville Road. I turn west towards Lovettsville, but turn right almost immediately. Each of the sideroads — Ropp, Enfield, Quarter Branch — that run north from Lovettsville Road towards the Potomac are all little unpaved adventures into residential rural holllows. There are whoops, corners and shaded straights galore, and I spend the better part of an hour seeing how much of them I can explore.

Eventually though, I find myself out of dirt to ride and back on pavement in Lovettsville. I give the bike some substantial ‘whizzzz’ and head down the sweepers of the Berlin Pike back towards the river, Brunswick and to Maryland.

 

***

 

The Zero’s instrumentation does its best to calculate remaining range, based on an aggregate view of the pilot’s driving profile. So someone tiddling along at 35 to 50 miles an hour on dirt roads as small power request levels will show 100+ miles of range remaining. On the other hand, someone flogging the beast for all it’s worth on clean, open pavement, will find that number falling precipitously.

And as I rolled down the Berlin Pike — a road I know well, characterized by a series of measured, downhill, wide open sweepers — my inner riding Dr. Jekyll was quickly replaced by a leering, speed-addled Mr. Hyde. In what was somewhat unusual for me, my entire family was on the road, leaving me to spend my time however I pleased, and with this bike, how I pleased was to ride until I could ride no more.

I have a favorite loop that takes me up Maryland 17 out of Brunswick, and runs me up to the Catoctin Mountains of the North County, over the mountainous and highly technical Maryland 77 past the site of the BMW Square Route Rally, the Presidential Retreat at Camp David, and through Cactoctin Mountain National Park. I know the loop is roughly 60 miles, and the range calculator showed some 80 odd. It might be tight, but I should be able to get home.

So, in the cool of a crisp autumn afternoon, I just zoned in on my riding as only one can on a Zero. With no transmission to work, no noise but the wind to break focus, I just concentrated on my lines and flew up these roads.

And that’s when I first noticed a disturbing trend — the range remaining indicator was falling faster than my mental map of the actual road range remaining back to Jefferson. From Middletown up to Camp David, the road is uphill all the way, and my enthusiastic use of the throttle was a departure from the easier dirt miles of the earlier part of the day. The Zero’s computer was making adjustments as my usage patterns changed, but the trend lines were starting to appear alarming.

At a certain point, I realized if I wanted to avoid a long walk — remember that all my family members (and my truck!) were all out-of-town for the weekend — I was going to need to make radical adjustments to my use of the remaining battery power. As I turned down MD 77 East, which is where the road comes back down off the mountain, I toggled the Zero from ‘Sport’ to ‘Eco’ mode — mountain road heroics were going to have to wait for another day — the mission had now changed to radical power conservation.

Working my way down the steep mountain road with the bike’s Regenerative Braking set to max, I actually was able to use the grade to put some miles back in the battery — I think a came off the top of the mountain showing 12 miles of range remaining, and hit the bottom showing 16.

Problem was, I was pretty sure it was 18 to get home.

As I pulled on to US Route 15 South, I went into extreme electron conservation mode. I set a speed of about 40 miles per hour in the right lane. I know that the greatest use of power on the Zero is actually wind drag, so I pulled my arms in and got low over the tank — years of bicycle racing have given me an innate sense of how to get aerodynamically ‘clean’ — and I did my best to exercise maximum self-control and use no more ‘throttle’ — to request no more power — than was absolutely necessary to keep the DSR making progress towards home.

This, no doubt, was extreme range anxiety. I felt exposed and helpless. It was absolutely excruciating.

Watching the range numbers incrementing down, I knew I was going to have to adapt — I would need to find an unguarded plug somewhere and pick up a few percent of charge to successfully make it home.

Rolling into Frederick — showing 2% of charge and 3 miles range remaining — I exited 15 on Seventh Street and headed for the 7th Street Shopping Center. In the entrance to this traditional old shopping center is the North Frederick Post Office. I trolled around the rear where their loading dock sits — on either side of the dock were two surface mounted metal electrical boxes. I rolled the bike up next to the dock, dismounted and pulled the charge cord from the bike’s glove box. I plugged the cord into the bike’s frame plug, inserted the business end into the socket, and crossed my fingers.

Nothing.

My friendly local USPS workers had killed the breakers to these receptacles. This was going to get harder before it got easier.

I mounted back up and trolled down the service access behind the stores.

Nothing.

I rolled around behind the Get-Go gas station.

More nothing.

Just before achieving Peak Range Anxiety, I took a turn behind the McDonald’s next door.

And there, on the back of the McDonald’s, more or less next to the twin drive through lanes, was a surface mounted receptacle.

I pulled up on the grass and onto the sidewalk in front of the restaurant’s back door. I plugged the charge cord back in.

“Thonk.”

It was the sound of the battery pack’s charge solenoid closing. The green charging telltale lit up on the instruments and began to blink.

Looked like we’d be riding home tonight.

After a few minutes looking around sheepishly, counting all of the surveillance cameras scattered around the drive-through, and waiting for someone to show up and run me off, I decided that I might as well kill the required plug time by getting a burger.

“Da daht daht daht daaaaaa….”

 

“I’m NOT lovin’ it!”

Inside the restaurant, I looked up at the displays that showed the surveillance camera images from the drive-through. The monitors cycled through the cameras one at a time. Much to my amazement, the spot next to the back door where the Zero was parked appeared to be the only ‘blind spot’ in the entire system.

I tried several times to flag down the Shift Manager to come clean about the bike out back. She appeared more than a little pre-occupied with the manifold missteps of her team. Finally I just have up, ordered my burger, and took a seat.

 

***

 

After finishing my bacony barbecue death by onion straw sandwich, I went back outside to the bike, that was showing a still grim 4% on the battery. I twiddled. I hopped up and down on one foot. I did a little dance. I did stand-up comedy for myself. I didn’t laugh.

Finally — watched pot syndrome? — the charge indicator rolled up to 5% and 11 miles of range remaining.

Jefferson was 7 and a half to 8 miles away. I’d gotten pretty good at electric hypermileing. I had a completely false sense of security.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

***

 

Back astride the world’s most muscular motorcycle, I went back to doing the world’s most convincing Moto-impresson of a postwar French Velo-Solex moped. Tiny amounts of power request. No road speeds ever exceeding 35 miles per hour. I worked my way out of the city on surface streets and then got back on Maryland 180, the Jefferson Pike, for the final few agonizing miles home.

Jefferson sits on the other side of a substantial ridge that separates the City of Frederick from the Middletown Valley. If one is headed to Jefferson on US 340 West, the hill leading up to the town is tremendously steep – I jokingly call it Dynamometer Hill because I will run every vehicle I drive at full throttle up the hill to see what it can pull at the top. MD 180, being an older, two lane country highway, isn’t quite as steep a grade, but one still has to clear the same hill.

Once over the top of the grade, it’s a 25 mph speed limit through the village of Jefferson and downhill all the way back to my garage.

As I started the Zero up the hill – showing 2% charge remaining – bad things began happening. After about 200 yards of climb, the charge indicator dropped to 1%. I backed out of the throttle. After 500 yards, it zeroed out. As I hit the slight level spot that breaks the climb into two smaller ones, the motorcycle’s instrument display rebooted — the torque and regen displays snapped from 0 to 100% twice, and then the motor cut off.

Years ago, Jefferson had, ironically, an old school speed shop — Grassello’s Speed — that would have looked equally comfortable in Brooklyn, Detroit or LA. Grassello’s had been a hairy chested, big block powered, supercharged, side-piped street drag racers hang. Grassello’s did motorcycles, too, only with more of a focus on chromed skulls and Maltese crosses and such.

Grassello, his bad self, passed on a few years back, and these days the shop is a wreckage of its former not that swanky self. The roof of the building is bandaged with giant blue tarps, and the whole lot is evidence of someone who has an unhealhily obsessive interest in collecting Chevrolet Corvairs. Not restoring, or even repairing, mind you, but merely collecting.

So it was into this rusty and decrepid Corvair graveyard that I coasted to a silent and very terminal feeling stop. Less than 2 miles from home, it was very dark, very quiet, and frankly, kinda spooky.

I turned off the bike’s ignition, placed the motorcycle on the side stand, dismounted and removed my helmet. Because Grassello’s had been a commercial property at one time, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that there was an outlet box somewhere. The building still clearly had power, because the bay display windows that had formerly held shock absorbers and Cherry Bomb Glasspacks were now filled with odd sculptural collages of the formerly alluded-to Chrome Skull Collection, with each lit by a single low-wattage lightbulb.

I tried to navigate the building’s front, but was impeded both by the hazardous assemblage of spare fenders, transmissions and engine blocks as well as the nearly utter lack of any usable light.

Fortunately, my cell phone has a flashlight app. I pulled the phone from the cargo pocket of my pants, and pressed the power button. After an uncharacteristic delay, the phone displayed a blinking red battery icon, indicating it did not have enough battery capacity to start. So not only could I not use the phone’s light to look for a plug, I couldn’t use it to call for help, either.

This would be as good a time as any for me to state that there are times when I hate batteries.

This was clearly one of those times.

Out of power to ride, and out of power to communicate, it was going to take the low-wattage power of my introverted personality to find some assistance somewhere along this dark stretch of country road.

Because the lights were on the shop, I knocked hard on the door. No one answered.

I looked around to see what other options I might have.

Across the street was a large house with all lights blazing. To get there was a potential push up a very long, very steep driveway, though.

Back down the hill I had just come up, though, was a neat little home where folks also appeared to be in residence. I gulped, took my helmet in my hand, and hiked back down the dark shoulder of the highway, trying to stay out of the roadbed and trying not to stumble in the darkness.

At the end of my short walk, I found myself looking at an aluminum screen door.

I knocked.

After an awkward delay, a tall, slim gentleman opened the door.

“I’m dreadfully sorry to bother you, but I’ve broken down, and I need some help.”

While my characterization of my problem was not technically accurate, this was no time to split semantic hairs.

“Sure, how can I help?”

So I laid it all out — “I’m on an electric motorcycle — I’m less than two miles from home, and I just need an electric plug to get enough charge to get over the top of the hill. Do you have an outside electric socket?”

“Yes — down at the far end of the porch. So you just need a regular socket?”

“Yes — regular plug — charger pulls about 8 amps at peak — 20 to 25 minutes should be enough to keep me from having to push it home. Bike’s up in Grassello’s lot. I’ll just drift it down the hill.”

Hiking back up the hill to the motorcycle, I kept having comic flashes of myself as a frustrated baker who had come up short of an ingredient mid-cake – “Howdy, neighbor – I just need to borrow a cup of electrons…..”

Once back up the hill, I remounted and turned the key — I did have enough juice for lighting, but not enough for motive power. I flintstoned the bike back out into the road, drifted back down the hill, across the lawn, and up onto the porch. I plugged the bike in, got the reassuring “Thonk!” of the charger kicking in, and then settled down to wait for enough juice to get me over the top of the hill and back to the garage.

With at least some time on our hands, we new neighbors introduced ourselves. My rescuer was named Lee, who turned out to be a retired Army vet. While in the service, Lee had apparently been trained as an electronics and electromechanical technician, so he was genuinely interested in the Zero’s hardware, and was in a position to ask some genuinely insightful and perceptive questions.

Belt Drive?

Silent?

Regenerative Braking?

Check, check and check.

Having run the Zero’s Z-Force pack into deep discharge, it took a little longer than usual for some progress to start showing up on the charge indicator. But instead of an awkward wait, with a lot of finger twiddling, rock kicking and staring obliquely at the ground, it turned into a genuinely fun conversation about electric vehicles — both motorcycles and cars — battery technology, as well a few genuinely fun motorcycle tales from the countries where the Army had stationed Lee — Germany, Japan, Singapore.

What had started out as quite the drag actually turned out to be fun. I don’t recommend running an electric vehicle’s battery pack into deep discharge as a method for meeting one’s neighbors, but when life gives you lemons, I always try to make delightful lemony cocktails. To your health!

After a slightly longer than anticipated delay, we started to see regular increments showing up on the battery charge indicator. When it hit 6%, I called time, and packed the charge cord back into the DSR’s glove box.

I gave Lee effusive, copious, heartfelt thanks, geared back up, booted up, and rolled off Lee’s porch, crossed over a small part of his lawn, then turned around in the road and headed back up the hill.

Given the bike’s utter silence, which had been one of Lee’s more pressing areas of inquiry, I heard him clearly say, “Oh, maaan” as I accelerated past him and back up the hill.

Forty seconds later, I hit the top of the grade, and began the descent back down the hill and into Jefferson. A minute after that, I was in front of my garage, pulling off my helmet, and plugging the DSR into the charge station I had set up in my shop.

I’d left for a little ride sometime around 3 p.m. — it was now closer to 10 than 9. I was definitely ready for a Nanticoke Nectar to bleed off the effects of extreme range anxiety. I’d been focusing intently on minimum power draw and maximum aerodynamic efficiency for the better part of 3 hours, and I was completely spent.

In the news surrounding Hurricane Irma, it was reported that Tesla automobiles had determined that — rather than building battery packs of two different capacities to sell at two different price points — it was more cost-effective to build one battery pack and implement the effective capacity in software. This became obvious when Tesla chose to temporarily unlock the ‘unlicensed’ battery capacity to help owners evacuate during the storm.

As someone who has ridden motorcycles that did not have fuel gauges and did have fuel petcocks with ‘reserve’ settings, this little experience made something obvious to me. Zero, as a motorcycle company that has its roots as a technology company, has some pieces of motorcycling tradition and practice that are not entirely internalized by them, that are not part of their engineering DNA.

Tesla has demonstrated that range and battery capacity limits can be implemented in software. A range and battery calculation that, for example, ‘informs’ the rider that a displayed 0% capacity remaining is actually 5% or even 10% capacity remaining would be consistent with the ‘reserve’ notion that all experienced motorcyclists understand in their bones.

Until that happens, though, Zero pilots that find themselves in the 10% or less battery capacity range need to understand that material changes in riding conditions can cause actual range to vary substantively from calculated range.

I wouldn’t have understood this unless I’d elected to ‘Test To Destruction’.

Gotta think that would look great on a T-Shirt. Wonder where I can get some printed up?

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Finn and Greg Ride to Joe’s

I hate it when I run out of summer.

No matter how many times I try to avoid it, summer’s end sneaks up on me, leaving me feeling like there’s a million things I should have done, 100,000 motorcycle rides I should have taken, a thousand camping trips that got away, with another year’s worth of Hollywood Calendar leaves flying off the screen and into the irredeemable past.

Some things are too important to let go, though.

Finn and I have taken our share of little backroad scratches together — little 40 minute vacations of road schooling, of boy bonding time.

I kept talking to him about ‘a trip’.

It didn’t have to be a long trip.

It would of necessity at least be one with frequent breaks as Finn’s single gets about 60 miles per gallon and struggles to carry a gallon and a half of gas.

But to have a trip you have to have some semblance of a destination, or at least the willingness to head this way over here without one.

I looked at motorcycle races and vintage museums but nothing seemed to fit the bill.

Finn hadn’t done any extended riding on the Interstate, and I really wanted to try and avoid that when possible.

We’d spent a lot of time this summer wrenching on the little Buell, fixing our home’s deck and camping out, but one day a look at the calendar showed about three Saturdays left before Finn headed back to College Park.

It was go or don’t go, so I did something uncharacteristically bold.

 

***

 

I look at the Craigslist Motorcycle for Sale Ads the way some people probably look at porn.

I got started while I was looking for a bike for Finn.

But now I just can’t stop.

The listings are a mechanical menagerie of Thoroughbreds and Mongrels, a museum gallery split between some Constantin Brancusis and seeming random piles of welded rusted chainsaws and drive sprockets.

The constant laugh of surprise, the sigh of newly discovered Moto Lust is endlessly entertaining.

While lately engaged in my demented little hobby, a certain pattern revealed itself to me.

While skipping through the Western Maryland listings, I started to sense a thin veneer of discernment and taste starting to take shape on top of the endless piles of butchered Harleys, wadded dirt bikes, and Things-That-We-Found-In-There,  those Things-We-Are-Sure-That-Ran-When-We-Parked-Them.

In Seventy Eight, I think it was.

Anyway, in amongst the debris, there were jewels.

A perfect, low mileage MotoGuzzi Norge, in Of Course It’s Red It’s Italian.

A first year of production Triumph 900 Sprint. Again, perfect. In British Racing Green.

A matched pair of Suzuki VX800s. Perfectly maintained, intelligently modified good runners. Both of them.

An MZ Silver Star, with an OHC 4 Valve Rotax air cooled 500 Single.

A 400 cc Suzuki Bandit. Again, modded, maintained, running, perfect.

There was a Ducati or two, and some other stuff, who can remember?

Is it hot in here or is it just me?

The pictures, though, put it together for me. All the pictures…. deep green treed location, gravel driveway, pole ag-style building … these listings were all the same guy. The same guy was selling all of these cool bikes.

My dumb-butt mode slow thinking big amperage relay slowly bzzzzzted and slammed closed.

“If he’s selling all these bikes…..my God…. What….Is….He…..KEEEEEPING?”

 

***

 

Which brings me back to right where I was doing something uncharacteristically bold.

I responded to one of the ads.

Hi!

My name is Greg Shamieh, and I have incurable motorcycle illness.

I recognize you as a fellow sufferer. …”

I went on to tell the seller I thought he had great taste in bikes, and that but for Fair-haired Son In College Here, I would likely have already showed up at the bottom of his driveway with my Pickup Truck and A Peachbasket Full of Hundreds.

And I told him — at least I assumed it was a him — about Rolling Physics Problem, and Invited Myself Over.

And then sat by my computer and waited.

 

***

 

The answer didn’t take long.

When I was still in formal schooling, I had a writing teacher who was a retired bigtime Television executive.

Dr. B provided the following guidance, which was completely consistent with his prior employment.

“If you have a grabby opening, the rest will take care of itself. If you don’t have one, the rest doesn’t matter.”

Time and again, that has proved to be Wisdom.

An e-mail popped up in my inbox.

“Hi, my name is Joe, and I am a motorcycle addict. I never get to any of the other steps in the twelve step program, though.”

Looked like we had a classic meeting of the minds.

 

***

 

So Joe and I traded a few e-mails.

I told him straight up I was looking for a destination before Finn went back to school.

Joe seemed to know exactly when that was, which seemed significant, even if I didn’t exactly know why.

And as we talked back and forth, it began to seem like Joe and Finn had some shared tastes. Joe was a member in good standing of of the Four Stroke Singles National Owners Club — Finn was a Buell Blast rider.

Of course, Joe had come by his credentials honestly. He’d even organized a ride known as the Coast-to-Coast Tiddlers Tour (C2CTT) where he and his wife, Carol, had crossed the country and returned (Alive!) on a matched pair of Honda CBR 250s.

Finn, on the other hand, while having a built-in bias for singles — he’s started out wanting to find a nice used Enfield Bullet, or perhaps a Yamaha XT400 — had been signed up for Blast Love by an Old Man who had exhibited an uncharacteristic lack of concern for all of the things folks had told him which generally threw shade at the Harley Sportster-based single. Still, despite the fragility of tune the bike had demonstrated, Finn seemed to have bonded with it anyway.

Then, there was the small matter of stickers.

Joe shared a story with me about his R1100GS, and the minor disagreement it had had with a deer. The deer had demonstrated its displeasure by placing two or three substantial hoof dents in the R1100’s tank. Joe, being a man of practical and somewhat situational frugal bent, decided that form did not affect function, so strategically put some stickers over the worst damage.

The stickers, to Joe’s eye, looked lonesome. So he put a few more on to keep the first ones company. And, like a lot of folks I know, once he got into the habit he just couldn’t help himself.

There is a little of the stock red paint showing on that tank, but one needs to work a little to find some.

And it would be one thing if Joe had stopped when he ran out of R1100 tank. But that was just the jumping off point.

Joe, as you recall, had A LOT of motorcycles. Most, but not all, of them were also festooned with stickers from fantail to bowsprit, windshields, top cases and panniers to boot. I’d even find out that it didn’t stop there, but let me try and move the narrative along here.

Finn, too, had developed a singular need to sticker something — in this case, the carrying case for his Epiphone Firebird Electric Bass. The Firebird is the longest scale electric bass ever mass-produced, and as a result has the longest case of any electric instrument. We’re talking billboard sized, Twin-Towers Drive-In Movie Screen size ridiculous.

If you are going to try and cover such a thing with stickers, Bud, you are really going to have to work at it.

Of course I’d been willing to help out wherever I could. “Shoei”, “Aerostich”, “Vintage Iron Motorcycle Club”, “Ace Cafe” — I was on the hunt for Finn stickers whenever I was on motorcycle walkabout.

What’s the likelihood you know two different guys with the same adhesive obsession?

Not much, I’d wager.

After the exchange of numerous e-mails, we settled on a particular time, and then addressed our kind entreaties to the Gods of Weather that we’d get a nice riding day.

 

***

 

The Gods delivered bigtime for us that Saturday morning.

As Finn and I grabbed coffee and breakfast, we had a clear, crisp spring morning that was wandering around lost in the beginning of August. It was about 67 degrees and sunny in Jefferson, and we’d lose a few degrees as we climbed in altitude while motoring westward.

After finishing my coffee, we geared up and headed for the garage.

Joe’s place is in Little Orleans, Maryland, about 75 miles or so west of Jefferson. Given the rivers and mountains in the way, there are about a million different ways up there and none of them straight. If you think to yourself that this makes it a perfect place to which to ride a motorcycle, you’d be spot on. I’d had more than a few meandering routes up there that quickly expired in the face of Finn’s lack of urgency in getting himself up and ready to go in the morning. Hey, anything that has Finn fully operational before noon probably is urgency, but never mind that.

In the face of our lack of alacrity, I made a necessary adjustment. Whereas Buell Blast Touring is probably best experienced off the Interstate, we’d need to make up for lost time by using Interstate 70 to make quicker work of Frederick and Washington Counties, and then jumping off onto Scenic US Route 40 as we climbed up the ridgelines that separate central and western Maryland.

In about 18 months of street riding, Finn hadn’t had the opportunity for much Interstate Highway point-to-point travel, but there’s a time and place for everything, and this was the time. As I had tried to do with every step in his riding education, I’d try to provide information, guidance and room to learn.

We shared a gas pump and took on a few gallons of high test – Finn his maximum load of about a gallon and a half, and my R90S about five and half, and then diced up Holter Road towards I-70 and the mountains of Western Maryland.

 

***

 

Holter Road is near the top of my list of favorite roads. Holter slices through the Middletown Valley — the land rises on either side of the road as it snakes through the Valley’s center — and with long sightlines and sweeping corners, it’s a wonderful place to warm the sides of one’s tires and see if your ‘A Game’ is going to make an appearance this riding day.

As my R90 and Finn’s Blast made our way north towards the distant ridge, and our route west, it was made apparent to me that my choice of ventilated gear — a set of mesh armored overpants and my Vanson Supermoto jacket, might have been a tad excessively hopeful. Some of the shaded spots along the road were downright chilly — downright weird for Maryland in mid-August. We’d be climbing about 2500 feet in elevation as we worked our way west, which meant I was dressed right for conditions at about 3 pm. Shame it was closer to 10. I’m personally well insulated — I’d tough it out.

Still, between the bright sunshine, the crisp breeze, and overall spookily cool temperatures, its hard to imagine a better start to a riding day. With my son Finn carving crisply on the other end of the string out on the road behind me — the exhaust bark of his big single distinctly audible in the sonic seams of the old boxer’s basso drone — it was hard to think anything other than right now, all was right with the world.

We beat our way from corner to corner up the length of The Valley, first into Middletown, and then following Maryland 17 up to Myersville. 17 has some great corners — a massive colonial property line 90/90 of the largest radius I can recall — where the road goes around a prosperous, modern farm — and lots of tighter more technical stuff as the road runs the ridgeline up the grade towards the Interstate. These old technology motors — big, aircooled cylinders, two valve pushrod overhead valve setups — really love the cool air, and one can tell. One gets denser intake charge, and running cool they rev better. On corner exits both bikes take well to big throttle, booming out, front wheels lightened, making some joyful noise.

As we make the left onto I-70 I indicate a stop. The ramp there is a major entrance, with a wide apron to allow tractor trailers to stop and set a spell. I leave room for Finn to pull to a stop inside me.

“Ok, Dude. I’m going to let you lead. Find whatever speed works for you and The Blast, and I’ll adjust. We’ll be doing this for a little while so you should do what’s comfortable. We ride in a stagger on the Interstate — tighter than on backroads, but still a sensible distance apart. I’ll demonstrate. I’ll run tail gunner and try and keep the Vehicular Aggression Society off your 6.

We’ll take 70 up to Hancock, where we’ll exit onto I-68. As soon as we get up there we’ll exit onto Scenic US 40, which is a total peach of a mountain road.

You good?”

I got a steely nod, and a visor slapping shut.

After a look over his shoulder, Finn klocked The Blast into gear, and rolled up the ramp, leaving everything behind bathed in sound.

I followed behind, as we rolled though the gears, winding every one out, as we made our way up the giant grade that is 70 West coming out of Myersville.

 

***

 

Working one’s way west in Maryland is an adventure in successive mountain grades. Crossing Frederick, Washington, Allegheny and finally Garrett Counties, one hits ridgeline after ridgeline, climbing continuously as one works one’s way west.

Now I’ll take a brief pause here, to allow my friends who live in the American West to catch their breaths and stop laughing, slain at the thoughts of our 3500 foot ‘mountains’, but if it has switchbacks, and big grades I must climb, it sure seems like mountains to me, OK?

The first one is South Mountain, and it’s what we’re climbing the back of as we work our way up to speed. After a mile or two of steep climb — semis falling back sharply in their climbing lane — Finn and I hit the top and break back into bright, bright sunshine and a breathtaking view down the steep long descent down the other side dropping into Washington County. He adopts about a 67 mile an hour cruise, which is below the power in the bike’s top gear. It’s as unstressed and quiet as the now hot-rodded single can manage. If every bike has a sweet spot where it channels its inner touring bike, this, apparently, is the Blast’s.

We adopt an easy, easy cruise across the county, through Hagerstown, and onto the long shallow 25 mile climb towards Allegheny County and the next set of mountains. Finn quickly demonstrates he’s comfortable out here in slabland, just as he has with every new motorcycle experience we’ve thrown at him.

Or at least as comfortable as the Blast’s rudimental saddle will permit.

It’s a good thing this initial snack size motorcycle trip isn’t some sort of big mile monster. Don’t want too much, too soon — these things take time.

And before I can overthink it, we’re rolling into Hancock, and the I-68 cut off. Just west of town I-68 takes off towards the sky again, as we hit our next Mountain, which is inexplicably called Sideling Hill.

Hill nomenclature notwithstanding, Sideling Hill is a mountain, and a pretty spectacular one at that. Highway engineers, when the Interstate went in, looked at the route they’d have to work with if they wanted to take a big road over it, and came up with an alpine route that covered somewhere between twelve and eighteen miles. So after a thoughtful scratching of the head, they blew the top clean off the mountain, and cut it down to four of the steepest runaway truck ramp filled miles I’ve ever seen on the interstate.

It turned out the inside of the mountain that they removed was some of the prettiest geology you will ever see, which makes losing the mountain almost worth it. The rock cut revealed a massive syncline of mixed sandstones and shales, which looks like a picture of an upside down mountain hidden within the mountain. Its a spectacular, jaw dropping place in and of itself, but that’s not the only reason it speaks to me.

I used to have a riding bud named Paul. Paul, who is riding better roads now, was a rider’s rider, a gentleman’s gentleman, and one of the inexplicably humble men I have ever known. Paul was prone to things like calling out at work because he’d decided to ride to Montana for lunch. Paul’s last motorcycle had a BMW 1,000,000 mile badge, and he lived and rode like that until the week he quit our roads for smoother ones.

Paul, while prone to spontaneity, was also a creature of habit. Whenever he set off on a really big ride, he had a favorite place to start it, and that was to greet the dawn from Sideling Hill. There is a parking lot in the center of the cut, that allows you to see the mountain within the mountain as well as the rising sun. Such a view from such a place places one in the mind of just how small one really is, and gives one a reminder of who’s really running the show.

Its is good to be fully cognizant of one’s insignificance in the universe before the prideful act of vaporizing continents from the saddle of a motorcycle. I have to think of Paul being up there just to make sure his head and his heart were fully in the game.

So I never approach this mountain without a sense of wonder, and of revery, and a sense of being in the presence of the big spirit of my friend.

 

***

 

Interstate 68 was intended to replace US 40 – the Old National Pike – through the Maryland Mountains. The Pike was too steep, and too twisty to enable modern commerce, so the big slab went in to modernize and streamline the route. Just like Route 66 runs in the shadow of Interstate 40, so runs Scenic 40 eclipsed by Interstate 68.

Of course, being Bikers, the very reasons that US 40 was replaced are the very reasons we’d most want to ride it, so at the very first chance to leave the slab Finn and I promptly bailed.

Immediately upon leaving I-68 the whole world slowed. The surface of 40 was deliberately abraded — they get a fair amount of snow up here and traction seemed to be the goal. We were beating our way up the mountain old school, the hard way, with seemingly endless strings of short straights and switchbacks. Except for minding some loose macadam in the bellies of the switchbacks it was a 10/10s rider’s blast.

As we neared the cut at the mountain’s peak, there is really only one way over, so 40 dumped us back on the Interstate, and then took us off again in a mile and a bit on the other side. As Finn and I carved down the back side of Sideling Hill, we had clearly made the leap into Western Maryland — trees were greener, larger and more plentiful, buildings were older, and one could plainly see just looking that the pace of life had slowed down two gears.

The more 40 we did the more that we liked it. It was getting to the point where getting to Joes was almost unwanted.

I’d memorized Joe’s street name and the road that ran to it before we’d left Jefferson. I knew basically where I was going even if I was a little weak on the details. When Orleans Road came up, I took it, and having a choice between a right and a left, predictably, I blew it.

Finn and I found ourselves running a nicely groomed pea-gravel road, running the ridgeline through beautiful, fertile green working farms. When five or six miles up the road I came to a ‘Welcome to Pennsylvania’ sign, my loss in the 50-50 was apparent, so I signaled a stop with my elkskin gloved hand.

“Sorry about that, Snorky. We had a choice between a right and a left, and I shoulda made the left.”

“No problem, Pop. With roads like this and views like this, you can make all the wrong turns you want.”

I love that boy.

 

***

 

As we backtracked in the right direction, Finn indicated he was out of gas. An Exxon station miraculously appeared, and we went big, buying about 4 bucks worth.

Rolling again we came pretty much immediately to Joe’s road. I immediately felt that weird familiarity, realizing I’d been down this road before when my family and friends had camped in an isolated unimproved campground down at the end overlooking a spectacular bend in the river.

We felt our way slowly along the road, until I saw the ‘Gilmore’ on the mailbox. Finn and I turned in, slid up the gravel drive, and killswitched and side standed the bikes in front of the large Pole Building at the end of the drive.

Welcome to Joe’s.

***

 

The first time laid eyes on him, I knew I was going to like Joe.

It was kind of like looking in a mirror with dirty glasses — there might be persistent evidence of a few more good porters enjoyed, and a little more beard, heck a little more hair, generally, but it was kind of like encountering a brother you didn’t know you had.

If this was a beauty contest, though, let’s be frank — there’d be no winners. Best either one of us could hope for was Miss Congeniality.

“I’d just about given up on you guys, it’s nearly time to go for a ride…..”

“Sorry Joe. Between being lazy, slow and lost, it just took a lot more time than I’d anticipated.

Can we get the tour of the garage?”

So we stepped inside.

 

***

 

Joe’s Garage is a steel skinned pole constructed building — common enough hereabouts in farm country. But where most pole buildings aspire to be some form of Tractor’s Nirvana, Joe’s was clearly designed with something else in mind. Wrapped with workbenches, equipped with an industrial hydraulic vehicle lift, and back in the dim recesses, a loft — filled with moto luggage, leathers and boxes of spares — that sat just high enough to allow motorcycles to fit underneath.

There were motorcycles everywhere.

When it comes to collecting, some people are specialists.

Joe appeared to have no easily discernible biases or brand loyalties. Joe just liked what Joe liked, and didn’t much care if anybody could hang or not.

For what its worth, what Joe liked tended to be pretty righteous, but let me not get ahead of myself.

As we walked though the door into the shop, the Triumph Sprint I’d seen advertised was sitting immediately inside. This big triple looked to be a fairly early example of the first Hinckley Triumphs — their premanufacturing design consultations with Kawasaki clearly visible — the power unit in this motorcycle was simple, robust, brutal in its appearance. There was no question who they were hoping would buy this motorcycle. It was painted British Racing Green — its cockpit fairing finished off with an endurance racing style twin round headlamp setup — and the ‘Triumph’ script was florid, dangerously close to exaggerated — just a tiniest bit too large. With the exception of some performance exhaust canisters, the bike looked as clean and tidy as the day it rolled off the line.

Snap the bike’s hard cases on, fill up the tank and make that big triple howl until you arrived in, say, Brazil.

I could easily see how, with the proper resources, I’d buy that bike if the opportunity presented itself.

Which, of course is how Joe got all of them, and why this garage was such a supremely dangerous place.

On the other side of the Sprint was a BMW F650 — one of the earliest Rotax-engined examples. Bike with stories to tell and many miles under their wheels have a well used look about them, and this bike had clearly been some places. And maybe a few more places. Dirt, insect bits and road mung spoke of tens of thousands of tough miles.

Indicating in that direction, Joe said, “That one’s Carol’s” referring to his wife and occasional partner in moto-foolery.

“That one does have patina. It took a few shots on a trip Carol and I took out to Montana. I looked out behind me on one corner exit and she wasn’t there anymore.

I turned around and went back and found her where she’d run off, and she’d gone down an embankment. She was a little beat up, but nobody was riding this bike back to Maryland. I made sure she was ok, got her settled and then I just went and rented a truck. Got this bike loaded and figured I might as well load mine too … there was no reason for one of us to drive the truck and the other ride.

Do you know there are three ways you can drop a motorcycle trying to load it into a truck?”

I am not Einstein but I do understand the Universe when it sends me the signs of a story that is just about to turn south and gas it.

“First way is to push it up, run out of momentum and drop it off the ramp on yourself. Second way is to ride it up the ramp, run out of momentum and drop the bike and yourself off the ramp too. Third way is to ride it up the ramp, not run out of momentum, and plant it in the front of the truck.

That’s the way I picked that day.

Somebody that rented the truck before us had been carrying grain, and the entire floor of the truck was covered with dust.. I hit the brakes…. nothing… it made quite the dent.

The Indigenous Nation Constable that took our Police Report clearly had an opinion about the two roadrashed and beat looking visitors to The Nation, but he worked hard to keep it to himself.

It was a very quiet ride back from Montana.”

 

***

 

Working our way deeper into the shop we came upon a brand new, matching pair of Suzuki VanVans. Matching, of course, being one for Joe and another one for Carol. If you have never seen a VanVan, its difficult to know how to describe it to you. Best I can manage is that its sort of the mini-dirtbike equivalent of one of those balloon tired, beach cruiser bicycles. It has a 200 cc four-stroke single motor, hugely oversize balloon tires, the squishyiest, most comfortable-appearing saddle you’ve ever seen off a GoldWing, all wrapped around a half size classic dirtbike chassis.

If there was ever an unthreatening, all round fun playbike — equally comfortable on the beach or in the woods — the VanVan would have to be it.

“I sold a pair of Honda Trail 90s this morning, before you showed up. In the Green Ridge ORV areas, they were fun, but just not enough. These, though, should be fine. haven’t taken ’em out yet, though.”

Joe looked pensive.

“I have sold 10 motorcycles in the last 90 days and I still have toooo many motorcycles.”

On a service lift in front of us, sat a disassembled MZ Silver Star. Something utterly terrible had clearly befallen its final drive — bits of rubber cush drive, a drive sprocket, and aluminium fragments that had formerly been the drive hub were dispersed across a wide area. Clearly when this had gone ‘boom’ it had gone ‘boom’ in a big way.

The Silver Star had an earlier version of the Rotax single than was in the BMW — this was a belt driven overhead cam air-cooled four valver. I’d actually considered this bike for Finn, until I discovered that despite its technological sophistication, a longevity-enhancing detuning had limited this motor to exactly the same 34 horsepower made by the stone axe-vintage motor in the Blast. 34 horsepower is 34 horsepower no matter how you slice it, and if you need to fix your bike, do you want to try and find a Harley Davidson dealer, or an MZ Dealer?

Yeah. Thought so.

Joe and Carol’s matching CBR 250s were next — these were the bikes they’d taken to the West Coast and back on the C2CTT. Both bikes looked well enough prepped to clear racetrack Tech Inspection — spotless with not a drop of anything out of place.

In the back corner of the shop was Joe’s UR-R1100GS, The Deerslayer, alternately known as the Mother Of All Stickers (MOAS). It looked a lot like my R75 — seeps of motor oil and gear oil mixed with rock dust and mud. This was no pretty little girl bike, this was a bike that got used, and got used hard.

I didn’t have the heart to tell Joe about my Internet BMW Riders friend, Brian Curry, who had ridden his K75RT, two-up, through a pair of deer, killing them both and leaving both himself and his passenger uninjured. For this, the imposing 5 foot tall hunnert pounds with his Aerostich on figure of Brian became The Deerslayer.

Since we’re not out of deer yet, I suppose there is room in this universe for two of them.

On another service lift was on of my personal favorites, a Honda Pacific Coast. On first blush the Pacific Coast looks like a K1200LT that someone left in the clothes dryer too long, inducing shrinkage. The basic elements of the motorcycle — the curved front fairing and windshield, the bodywork integrated crash bars, the integrated, aerodynamic side and top cases – all look like they came from the same pen.

What’s under the Honda’s plastic, though, is typical oddball Honda-think.

Underneath the plastic was the first generation water-cooled Honda V-twin — an engine architecture it shared with the Shadow cruisers, the Ascot tracker, and the TransAlp and AfricaTwin dual sports. These engines were offset crankpin twins, that looked like Vs but fired like an 270 degree engine – with dual plugs, three valves per cylinder, and hydraulically adjusted valves. All these engines needed to keep them running was clean oil and gas. In the Pacific Coast, one couldn’t even see the engine. It was a recipe for minimized drama and high levels of reliability.

The single most abused, highest mileage running example of any motorcycle of I am aware of is a Pacific Coast. Its owner, an AdventureRiders board inmate known as Vermin, had taken two-up tour of a lifetime from Detroit to San Diego, with a bike whose running condition looked so marginal at the time that the betting line was running heavily against the bike, known as Cack, even making it to California.

Once there, Vermin flew home, and stored the bike at his in-laws’.

Through machinations lost in the mists of Internet forum time, somehow Vermin ended up lending Cack to another AdventureRider, for another inadvisable and Quixotic journey.

Once home, that Rider then passed the bike and its key to another fresh pilot.

And so the bike ended up being essentially passed from hand to hand, where it became the linked ingredient of multiple long, arduous continent-swallowing rides.

I seem to even remember someone taking the Cack up the Haul Road.

The bike that looked like it would never survive even one adventure, somehow survived them all.

A tupperware wrapped, hatchback clamshell trunk like a Civic, overgrown scooter appearing endurance monster of a motorcycle.

A Honda Pacific Coast.

So yeah, anyone that chooses to have one of these has likely done so because they’re in on the secret. And any time I lay eyes on one it plays all those stories back.

Joe peered into the PC’s plastic innards, and at the mylar and foam wrapped motor that one so rarely even saw.

“I’ve got a carburetor rebuild kit for this — jets, seals and floats — should be great when I’m done. It’s next in line. It’s always something, you know?

It’s why I’m selling bikes. Simplify”

Behind the PC was a flash of red.

It was the MotoGuzzi Norge I’d become so irrationally attracted to.

If an R12RT was sexy, it would be a Norge. Where the RT is hard edged, the Norge is sensually curved. In the middle of it all, there’s that big 90 degree Guzzi twin, wrapped in fairings that let the cylinder heads protrude though. In keeping with the modern Italian habit of big port engine turning, the Norge has exhaust headers the size of your leg, the curvature of which is enough to make one swoon.

Well, it makes me swoon anyway.

If I owned such a bike, with a well-appointed, high-speed capable cockpit, I should likely head straight away to Montana, and therein, according to Joe, lies precisely the problem.

“If you breakdown with this in Missoula, the nearest MotoGuzzi dealer is a looooooooooong way away…”

And like the Beauty Queen who shattered one’s illusions the minute she began to speak, all of a sudden that Guzzi didn’t seem quite so attractive as it had just seconds before.

 

***

 

As we strolled out of the shop back out towards the light, my eye was drawn to what was apparently Joe’s shop beer fridge. Like many objects Joe, this one was enthusiastically stickered. Stickered, in fact almost excessively, even by Joe standards.

As I tried to drink it all in, Joe slid a binder filled with his sticker collection over to Finn and encouraged him to help himself to anything that struck his fancy. Lots did.

“It’s a 1930’s Philco. Found it sitting in an old farmhouse. It was the first ‘fridges sold in America that didn’t have the condenser coils sitting in the big cylinder up on top of the fridge — they’d figured out you could move the condenser to the lower section. This one had an envelope on the back with the bill of sale from the original store that sold it in Hagerstown, delivering it to the family we bought it from via the US Postal Service!

We bought it for nearly nothing, trucked it back here, plugged it in…” said Joe as he opened the door and reached in for a cold one and to offer me one, “…keeps the beer cold. Works good, it was just a little rusty, so stickers.”

One had to admit, stickers.

And the more one looked at the fridge, the more there was to look at. Racy ’40s Pin Up Girls. Politically incorrect sentiments. Motorcycle and motorcycle racing promos from every era and every country. Pictures of a younger Joe, lapping a racetrack at speed. It was like the legendary Chinese porcelline… it just pulled one in with endless unknown and unknowable mysteries.

But any fridge that has a Hunter S. Thompson magnet, containing his wisdom, “I’d hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”, is certainly an OK fridge by me.

 

***

 

As we walked back out into the sunshine, Joe turned to the right, and approached a third garage door that had initially escaped my attention. This door lead into an Amish-built garage — also common hereabouts. There garages are built on a series of 4 x 4 timbers, and are typically installed on a leveled gravel pad by simply sliding them — via the beveled 4 x 4 skids that they sit on — off the back of a flatbed truck trailer right into the position where they will be used. I have a garden shed that is built like this, and I know of at least one independent motorcycle mechanic that has his shop in a larger one.

Joe, apparently, had run out of space in his substantial pole barn, and had had to improvise.

Inside, there was a car — however nice it may have been, we’re not here to talk about cars — and another half-dozen or so motorcycles. As always, Joe’s discernment and good moto-taste were on full display. First, there was a matched pair of Yamaha SRX 600 Super Singles. The matched pair thing, if you havn’t picked up on it by now, is the ultimate Joe Moto-endorsement — bikes that Joe likes, he buys one of, bikes that Joe really likes are bikes that Carol should have one of as well, so Joe buys two. Like any of Joe’s matched pairs, both bikes were in perfect mechanical and cosmetic condition, and looked like the day they rolled off the line.

The Super Single was pretty much the ultimate development of the air-cooled single-powered sport bike. An Overhead cam, 4 valve head with two barrel carburetor driving a narrow steel perimeter frame stopped by triple disk brakes. The SRX was clearly aimed at serious, quirky enthusiasts, because there were very few street motorcycles sold in 1986 that were kickstart only. These bikes were nimble backroad weapons — looking at Joe’s pair it seemed like the typical Yamaha flat-topped racing style tank was no more than 8 inches wide. From the rider’s perspective these machines were almost more like bicycles than the motorcycles I know well — but for going around corners its hard to imagine anything better.

Also in the barn was a pair of Honda NX650 Dominators. Like many things Honda, the NX650 was a true dual sport motorcycle from a period in time — 1988 – 2000 — before most people knew what dual sports were. Made 10 years later, these would have been sales leaders, but in one of those repeating Honda stories, they were so far ahead of their time, that consumers were perplexed instead of amazed.

Joe’s NXs were beaters — clearly used offroad and appropriately dumped in the dirt from time to time. They were mechanically sound but far from pretty.

Joe, Finn and myself made our way back into the driveway and grabbed a set of folding lawn chairs.

As we sat down, Joe grinned and handed me a business card. From Frostburg State University – part of the University Of Maryland System.

Well, that explained why Joe — or perhaps more correctly Dr. Gilmore — knew exactly when Finn’s classes started. Professor Joe knew when classes started because that was exactly how long he had left to ride before he had to go back to work.

I asked Joe how he’d become a College Professor.

And he told me a story about an Administrator from Frostburg calling him to ask if he could cover for a Business Accounting course for which the University had unexpectedly found itself without a professor. Joe had been working as a CPA at the time, but graciously agreed, just to help them out.

Well, to cut to that chase Joe discovered he enjoyed teaching, he liked working with young people, and The Young People and The University seemed to like him, too.

So it just sorta stuck.

“And of course, the ten or eleven weeks to ride every summer isn’t bad either.

This year coming up is my last year. Then it will all be riding time.”

Joe let on that he wasn’t always an academic type. He’d originally been trained as an industrial mechanic — working on heavy equipment like trucks, tractor trailers, forklifts and construction equipment.

Joe had been working for a municipal government down in Texas, and explained a ratings and compensation system that incentivized the drivers of The City’s Garbage Trucks to load their trucks as full as was mechanically possible before they came off their routes to go to the landfill.

Even if that ‘as full as mechanically possible’ was a weight well over the rated capacity of the truck.

If you are the mechanic that gets the call when an axle or suspension of one of those trucks lets go, This Is Not A Good Thing.

Especially since a truck that has had such a failure will not be coming back to the shop under its own power to effect such a repair.

So a younger man who would eventually become Dr. Gilmore found himself, on 100 degree Texas day, underneath a garbage truck with a broken axle, with the lovely and indescribable fluid which emerges from all garbage trucks slowly leaking down around him as he worked. And Potential Dr. Joe, at that juncture, had that most rational and understandable of thoughts.

“There has got to be a better way to make a living than this.”

And there sure as heck was. Joe went back to college, struck a whole bunch of letters behind the name on his business card, and, I surmise, ended up making a materially comfortable living somewhere out there in the Big Friendly World of Corporate Finance.

In my job I work occasionally with emissaries from that Big Friendly World, and I suspect that to this Joe it probably felt a lot like wearing a shirt and tie whose neck was 3/4 of an inch too small.

Then Academia had called, all was right with the world, and Joe ended up exactly where Joe was supposed to be all along.

It really is the Best of All Possible Worlds.

Joe was married to his high school sweetheart, who both shared and tolerated his enthusiasm for any form of moto-adventure.

Joe and Carol had a nearly contractually detailed agreement about Joe’s little enthusiasm and his tendency to invest in it. This agreement, which was of an adult nature and was neither G nor PG Rated is one I shall decline to detail, as this is A Family Show.

One can assume, however, from the nature of that Agreement that Joe never felt in any way constrained from buying any particular motorcycle or a whole buncha motorcycles.

And those motorcycles had taken the two of them from coast to coast, and helped to introduce them to many friend, including me and my son Finn.

Joe spent some time deep in conversation with Finn. Finn, it should be noted, is not the world’s most prolix conversational communicator, but the two of them were humming right along.

Professor Joe wanted to know about Finn’s Architecture Program, and his experience on the campus at College Park.

Just watching the two of them it was clear that Joe was genuinely interested, genuinely empathetic, and an obvious Natural at The Professoring Biz.

 

***

 

I don’t like to sit, generally.

I make a strategic exception for the saddle of my motorcycle, but otherwise, I don’ t like to sit.

So after a few minutes in the lawn chair I got antsy, and started to walk around.

In between the doors to the pole building, was a vintage gasoline pump.

“Roar With Gilmore — Blu-Green Gasoline!”

“Ethel — contains Tetraethyl Lead”

I was also admiring a perfect Honda 650 Hawk GT that sat right in front of it.

“So you like the pump, eh?,” asked Joe. “A friend found that for me. I think they went out of business in the 40s. I had stickers made up, though.”

And so he had — both Hawks — another perfect matched set — had ‘Roar with Gilmore’ decorating their tails.

“These Hawks are perfect, Joe. I test rode one during a special program Honda ran when they were new — its was a little razor — it went wherever you thought it should.”

“We do like ’em. We’re taking ’em for a ride later, after you guys head home.”

“Well I don’t want to hold you up any longer, man. It is way too nice a day to burn talking to me when you should be ridin’. I sure had fun, though.”

Finn and I shook hands with Joe, geared back up, waved and slid back down the gravel drive. It was a perfect day for a ride and we were really in no hurry to get back home.

 

***

 

US Scenic 40 East heads towards home, so we took US Scenic 40 West.

The pines of this forest were larger here, and the road, as it wound its way toward Town Hill, grew more shaded and cooler are we worked our way higher. The road was the treat of a road that I remembered from my first big ride to New Mexico — with switchback after switchback and huge grades and sweepers. With one eye on my rearviews it was fun to watch Finn attacking these corners.

I was definitely not the only one that was having fun.

After running about a dozen miles west, we took a loop of side roads that brought us back out on Scenic 40, where we reluctantly turned our wheels east.

The road over Town Hill was just as much fun going east as it had been going west, so it was all good.

Finn and I worked out way back down one mountain, and then up and down the other, grabbing a much needed sandwich when we worked our way back to Hancock.

 

***

 

Coming back out of Hancock one gets dumped onto I-70 for two exits, before Scenic 40 splits off again. Finn and I left the highway there, never to return.

The rest of the ride home was a string of little Western Maryland towns, strung along the Old National Road as they were. We were never over 60 for very long, and then would gently troll into another little town — gas station, library, market, cafe, Post Office — and then back onto the open road between them again.

Too soon, came South Mountain, Middletown, and a view of the ride towards home. Finn and I took a slight scenic detour, cutting back across the Valley on Picnic Woods and then Gapland Roads — trying to stretch this ride out for a few more perfect corners, tires biting, front wheels lightening up on corner exits. Try as we did to avoid it, too soon we were home, listening to the overwhelming sound of no motorcycle engines, pantomiming being stiff as we dismounted and placed our bikes on the stands.

There’s a world of future where there will be other rides, other bike and other trips.

But today with a new fellow traveller, a son I love and of whom I’m proud, and a most beautiful riding day, this ride to Joe’s was a little jewel that I knew I would always hold.

Yin Yang

There is no light without the darkness.

And there is no darkness without the light.

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

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

 

***

 

I’d had this plan.

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

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

Which of course, is why it was doomed.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

And that was it.

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

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

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

“I won’t sweat it,” I thought.

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

 

***

 

Only it wasn’t.

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

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

Then weird took the whole thing to the next level.

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

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

From my house to Charlotte is about 450 highway miles.

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

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

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

Which of course it wasn’t.

 

***

 

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

Exactly Jack.

So I began to get creative.

Rolling Physics Problem has a number one fan.

#1 Fan’s name is Bud.

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

Hi Bud!

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

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

So I tested the theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now all I had to do was get there.

 

***

 

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

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

 

***

 

Three days out, Bud From LA pulled out.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

Pretty good.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

Which would be almost completely incorrect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

So it was fair skies, and rising temperatures.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

And a sweet run it was.

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

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

It was more than pretty good.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

…to be continued…

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

 

Gravity Is a Bitch

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

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

I am not a superstitious man.

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

Consider the following thoughts, if you will.

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

“This motorcycle has never run better”.

“What could possibly go wrong?”

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

Two Teardrops, One S and a Nanticoke Nectar

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

Thee Evil TerraTrike Sportster, Which Apparently Hates Me

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

Had been.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you all riiight? Are you hurt?”

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

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

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

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

“Oh, hey hun…where ya been?”

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

“Oh NO!…. Did you hurt……MY BIKE?”

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

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

“Holy cow, man, are you all right?

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

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

“Did you hurt……MY BIKE?””

That’s my girl.

Riding with Paul

Paul Mihalka was somebody I knew pretty well, but I wish I had known better.

He was a man of a million ride stories, every single one of them better than the best of mine.

If you’d gone far, Paul had gone way farther, likely at least five times.

At well past 80, Paul could ride the wheels off of anything, and reduce formerly testosterone fueled twenty-somethings who’d seen him disappear over the horizon on the road to states of gobsmacked muteness.

Though, gentleman that he was, he wasn’t the sort of person who would make a fuss over himself or the things he done. Like deer. Or Montana for lunch. Or that million mile badge on his bike.

I didn’t get to have the pleasure, but those who did ride with him spoke of a routine that always involved making arrangements as to where Paul would be waiting for the rest of them when they eventually got there.

Paul was smooth as a rider, which made him fast on the road. But Paul was even smoother as a man, and that made him a good human being.

Paul had been the Gentlemen Rider that did an unhurried and lovingly detailed delivery walkaround with me on the only new motorcycle I have ever bought after the guy that sold me the bike tossed me my keys and hopped on his bike and split.

He was the guy I’d always find already very relaxed by the fire ring when I pulled in whacked at a distant rally.

One Saturday morning not too long ago, I woke up with an uncaracteristic urge to dooooo something. And that thing was to go straight down to the motorcycle shop where Paul worked, and pick up a BMW Mileage badge that I’d applied for many months previously, and promptly forgotten about.

On Saturdays I like to sleep in, or ride, but goal orientation is usually not part of the discussion.

But I had to do this.

Right freaking now.

So I rode down to Rockville, and went and saw Paul. We shook hands as Paul gave me my badge. A picture was taken.

IMG_1089

There was nobody else I would wanted to have received it from.

I remember bro-hugging him afterward, and having him comedically mimic his own patented ‘little look of distaste’ in response to my ungentlemanly modern breach of decorum.

My friend looked just tired though. He had a homemade healthy lunch on his desk that looked picked at, but uneaten.

Tuesday Paul went to see the doctor. A week later he was gone.

***

Sometimes riding a motorcycle can be a thing of grace.

Where in place of a man, and a machine — a technical task with instruments, controls, feedback loops — instead becomes a simple way of being. The machine beneath you simply disappears as you read and respond to the road ahead. No gears, no braking, just a seamless dance with the ribbon of road and the throttle.

It’s then I ride with Paul.

***

The first time it happened was a beautiful spring day. There’s a section of Gapland Road that runs within 3 miles of my garage, and its as much fun as you can have without going to the Corkscrew or Creg Ny Baa. The middle of the run has a modern two lane replacement for an ancient one lane cast iron bridge that recently failed. The road that leads to it and away from it has a steep decreasing radius right hander falling off the riverbank leading to the bridge and then a steep decreasing radius left hander climbing fast back up the river bank on the other side. There are lots of ways that this can go wrong, and only one narrow way it can go perfectly right.

On that day it went absolutely, perfectly right.

As a child, my parents concluded I ‘wasted’ a lot of time with my buds from Warner Brothers’ ‘Looney Tunes’.

Determinations of utility and lack thereof, it should be noted, are highly subjective and personal things.

But it was like the sound of a little hotel doorman’s desk bell, straight out of ‘Looney Toons’, that announced the first time Paul, with his unmistakable Austrian accent, checked in.

‘”That was sweet. Can I come along?”

I don’t care how much ‘Looney Tunes’ one watches, or how much ‘Looney Tunes’ one is, good manners and self preservation would both seem to dictate not to be disagreeable with the departed, so agreeable I was, and consent was quickly and unequivocally given.

‘Sides, other than that Paul didn’t really have much to say, and his cheerful — was he smiling? — presence indicated that the grace of the highways had been achieved.

***

Future rolling rendezvous became less dramatic, but were all equally palpable.

Whenever its happens it because I’ve reached that magic place. It isn’t really surprising in any way that that magic place is where he’d be.

I just got back from a hundred winter day miles on my K bike. I’d had a few holiday days out of the saddle, and at first I was rusty, and stiff.

But as both I and the bike warmed up, fluidity, and then grace, returned.

Shortly thereafter, I sensed Paul on my shoulder again.

“Good to see you”, I said.

And a good day of cold air, narrow forest ways and flattrack-like clay roads in the North County became absolutely perfect.

***

Wrenchin’ with Nixon

9

There was a point in my life when the shit I didn’t know vastly outweighed the shit I did know.

That probably isn’t earthshattering news.

Heck, I can even think of a few people who might opine that those days never ended, but we’re not going to get hung up on their negative vibe, man.

As a puppy motorcyclist — bright eyed, empty headed, and 22 years old — the things I didn’t know about motorcycling were manifold and encyclopedic in scope.

I didn’t know anything about motorcycling history.

Anything more complicated than Honda and Harley-Davidson were utterly wasted on me. Motoguzzi? FN? Sarolea? The Vincent? Aermacci? MV Agusta? Velocette? Huh?

I knew less about motorcycle engineering. Telescopic Forks? Roller and plain bearings? Overhead Cams? Twin Swirl Heads? Frame rigidity and controlled flex? Progressive linkages? Air cooling? Singles, Twins, Fours and Sixes? You talkin’ to me?

My knowledge of motorcycle competition was even more miniscule. To nothing and more than nothing we added nothing to a higher power. I thought that Glen Curtiss only made airplanes. Cal Rayborn? Kenny Roberts? Who? Geoff Duke? A movie star? Giacomo Agostini? Maybe an Italian restaurant?

Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and I started with a blank sheet of paper and the sound of crickets.

I hope I can be forgiven.

Its not like we Americans provide a great deal of public respect and adulation to what should be our motorcycle racing heros. Bike race winners aren’t on the evening news or the front page of the paper the way NASCAR and Indianapolis winners are. Even today, the number of American competitors in the Global MotoGP championships is a tiny minority, will the majority coming from Europe and elsewhere.

Why kill all these electrons to drive home the point of how dumb I was?

Don’t make me get ahead of myself.

***

How dumb I was starts to explain how anyone might think it was a good idea to buy a 1973 Honda CB750 Four that someone else has tried to hack and modify into an American Style Cruiser.

The bike had a Two Inch Overstock Extended Fork, Kerker Four Into One Exhaust, K&N Pod Air Filters, and a stepped cruiser saddle. It was working way too hard to be cool. That Honda — my first street motorcycle — was a magnificent motor wrapped in total, utter garbage. Every single one of those modifications had made the bike less ridable by degrading its handling and throttle response. It was pretty cool with the revs up in a straight line, but everywhere else it was a nightmare.

That nightmare was on big-screen display every time I entered a corner. The extended front end had moved the already high center of gravity higher and the weight distribution further rearward. The OEM shock absorbers, which were never that good to begin with, were no longer even phoning it in with 40,000 miles on them and under these less-than-optimum conditions. Once leaned in the bike was a pogoing, wandering mess on which it was absolutely impossible to maintain any kind of cornering line.

I may have only known one tick more than nothing, but if I wanted to survive the next year or two I knew I needed to get that motorcycle some shocks that worked.

So I went looking for some shocks.

***

In the early 80s, me and my Honda shared an apartment with some of my buds in Cockeysville, Maryland.

One day, while headed north on York Road, I saw a fairly loud red, white and blue sign out of my peripheral vision. I turned my head to see “Gary Nixon Enterprises — Motorcycle Parts and Performance.”

I ran up the road until I found a safe place to turn around, went back to the shop, kickstanded it, removed my helmet and went inside.

The shop seemed a little threadbare.

I remember lots of beige painted drywall, a few posters, a few fairly sparsely populated glass display cases. There was a set of red racing leathers on the wall, and then there was that guy.

My host was fairly small of stature, with greying red hair and a seriously square set of jaw.

He got up out of his chair and walked to the counter.

“Help you?”

His jaw didn’t seem to move when he talked.

I told him I was looking for some replacement shocks for my CB750.

He said he had just the thing, and named a price which I knew to be well below reasonable. I asked to see them, and he went back into the stockroom to fetch them.

While he was out of the room, I started to let my attention wander a little just to get a feel for the joint. There were pictures here and there of racebikes — local kids on dirtbikes, and some more serious-seeming road racers.

I looked back at the leathers on the wall. They were bright red, with ‘Nixon’ emblazoned across the back — in perfect 70s style, the ‘I’ in Nixon had a big star for the dot. Upon closer inspection, it seemed clear they had been cut off the original occupant.

There was one more thing that took a long time to compute. The leathers had a fairly large, abraded hole, pretty much right where the left buttock of the user would have been.

I was having a ‘Mr. Jones Moment’. I was pretty sure something was happenin’, but I didn’t know what it is, yo. The hardness, the perverse humor, the fairinged and sponsor stickered road racers in the picture…

“Some shit, huh? Was wearing those on the Kawasaki Triple, flat out on the front straight at Daytona, when the two stroke sumbitch siezed right up. Slid on my ass almost the whole length of the straight. Ha!”

His jaw, Gary Nixon’s jaw, definitely didn’t move when he talked.

There was a reason for that, which you can find told in any history of American Motorcycle Racing. This was Grand National Champion Gary Nixon, one of the most competitive, gifted and unlucky men ever to grab the bars and twist a throttle.

But to my younger self, whose Native American name was “Sound-of-Crickets”, this was just a friendly guy in a bike shop — a lively soul like many more I would meet around bikes. I had no clue this was the equivalent of buying your baseball bat from Mickey Mantle.

Cheep. Cheep. Cheep.

***

The shocks that Gary produced were Boge Mulhollands. Unbeknowst to me — OK, everything was unbeknownst to me — these were the best shocks made for that CB at the time. They were fully rebuildable, valving could be adjusted, and all the roadracers and canyon hotshoes of the day had these on their single cam Hondas. All I knew was that they cost a great deal less than the Honda dealer’s OEM shock, and they were going to do the job.

I paid the man, pumped his hand and thanked him for his help.

When I got to the curb, I looked at the bike, the box in my hands, my luggage rack and my collection of bungie cords. These things were heavy, expensive and I didn’t really like the thought of them rubber banded out there.

“Four bolts”, I thought.

“Easiest way, best way. I’ll just eat ’em here”.

I yanked out the tooklit and had the street side bolts yanked in two minutes. I pryed the former shock absorber off and replaced it with one of the Boges. Just as I was starting to tighten the first bolt, Gary came striding out the store’s front door.

“Jeeeesus Christ, kid, you can’t do that here. If my neighbors see this they’ll run my ass out of the neighborhood”.

Gary scanned left and right up and down the block, seeing nothing. He quickly checked my state of progress.

“Ah shit… gimme that 17”.

I passed him the wrench and proceeded to tighten my side back up with an adjustable I’d added to the stock kit.

Gary had his shock off in significantly less than the little time it had taken me.

We both wrapped up at roughly the same time. One chopped Honda now had two gloss black, serious business road racing shocks.

***

I can tell you that those Boges absolutely transformed that motorcycle. Given its extended wheelbase, it was never going to be a roadracer. Although I began to think of it as more of a streamliner railway locomotive, it did absolutely do exactly what it was told in corners from that point forward.

***

That was many bikes ago, but my understanding and love for cornering started that day, twisting wrenches in a parking space on the side of York Road with Gary Nixon.

As many years of riding and love for motorcycles has gone by, I’ve come to understand just who Nixon the racer was, and his importance and heroic stature in the sport we both loved. The original ‘Never Say Die’ competitor — fighting through staggering injuries, fickle motorcycle factory teams that didn’t do right by him, and even some bad race officiating that cost him a title he had won on the track.

I saw Gary many years later along with a host of other racers out at MidOhio, when BMW sponsored the ‘Battle of the Legends’ series. One of the other racers was talking to me and said, “BMW tells us that this is an exhibition. He..” pointing to Nixon, “…laughs at them every time they say that”.

Nixon was, without doubt, a legend and a racing hero. But that day, sitting on a curb, he was just another motorcyclist, no ego, no barrier, just a bud helping another bud out.

I’ve met lots of would be heros that turned out, upon familiarity, to be first class creeps

Gary Nixon wasn’t one of those.

Oooooh. Spoooooooky.

I’ve never been one for scary movies, or for ghost stories around the campfire.

It just doesn’t do anything for me.

But every once in a while, reality will do something that makes one sit up and take notice, and makes all those fictional spooky stories seem lame.

Besides, its Halloween, and if not now, when?

***
Having more than one old BMW motorcycle means you need to know someone who can repair the Motometer speedometers and tachometers that BMW used on their bikes.

The older the bike, the more pressing this need becomes.

The combined speedo/tach cluster units that sit inside the headlamp shell, as used in the /5 and /2 motorcycles are, compared to modern instruments, particularly fragile, with a need for lubrication and adjustment every decade or so, assuming they don’t blow up before then.

Which, if you’re riding the bike frequently, can be a fairly major assumption.

My /5, which had it’s instrument self destruct rather spectacularly on the way home from being purchased — breaking off both the tach and speedo needles and spinning the instrument hubs in a rather crazed random manner — made this pretty clear on Old BMW Bike Ownership Day One.

For folks that lived in the greater Baltimore-Washington Metro Area in the 1980s and 90s, that someone you needed to know was Irv Simon.
Irv operated an automotive and motorcycle instrument repair business out of his home in the suburbs of Baltimore. The downstairs front room of Irv’s unassuming blue and white suburban split level was essentially old-speedometer heaven, with a substantial workbench, several electric instrument drive motors with adjustable transmissions, and an inventory of special holding fixtures, tools, and repair parts that probably didn’t exist anywhere else in the known universe.

I first met Irv when the new Motometer combo instrument I’d installed in my /5 lasted about 6 years before going berserk.

I presented Irv with the patient in his shop, and he was extremely generous with me in talking about the special tool required to remove the bezel to service the instrument, and that he not only had it, but had a supply of new bezels and seals — to make sure the repair would last. He asked if I thought the instrument was reading slow or fast, because he could dial it in. He also asked if I wanted the odometer set to any particular value? Because the instrument was a replacement unit, I asked him to add the miles that had been on the original instrument so that post repair, it would read the actual total miles on the bike.

No problem.

When I got the instrument back, it looked and, more importantly, worked better than when I had bought it.

And although I had the pleasure of having Irving service that instrument at a later time, it was because his ‘calibration and service slip’, I had been advised, would provide a Virginia Traffic Court with grounds for reducing my ‘excessive speed’ moving violation to a non-points bearing equipment violation.

This had been good advice.

Point being, though, is that Irving’s work was far better than stock. That unit got serviced so I wouldn’t, but not because it needed it.

It still doesn’t, as that instrument is in that bike and working well to this day.

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***

Total change of gears.

I’ve written a fair amount about my barn job R90S.

I got more than a couple of milk crates full of stuff when I bought that bike. A lot of it was funky trash, but there were a few bits of precious metal.

Among them was the bike’s original quartz Motometer clock. The voltimeter was there too, but my understanding was that these original clocks were not common, and running ones were still less common.

The tiny wiring harness that they required was not there, so off I went to visit a buddy of mine that worked as a BMW Parts Counterman.

I told him why I needed the harness.

“Man,” he said, “those clocks never run.”

“Irv can fix them though. Then they’re fine from then out.”

I called Irv. He confirmed what had been surmised.

Against hope, I went out to the garage and installed the harness, and then connected the leads to the clock.

It started right up and began keeping perfect time.

***

That clock then kept perfect time for the next several years, despite the apparent improbability of same.

Then, all of a sudden, it didn’t.

I remember going out to the garage one Wednesday morning, and noticed immediately that the clock’s solid, mechanical ‘tick’ was missing.

I removed it from its hole in the fairing, and poked at it impotently. I set the time, connected it directly to an available battery, and was able to confirm its complete and total demise.

I figured that — with regard to my Motometer clock — I’d been living on borrowed time, and then didn’t really think that much more about it.

***

Saturday morning, I found myself standing in front of my friend the BMW Parts Counterman again.

I told him about my precious clock, and how it had quit without warning Wednesday morning.

“Guess I’ll have to break down and take it to Irv, now.”

<Sound of ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ’ up and under>

“Dude, Irv passed away Tuesday night.”

***

Now I’ve said that I’m not much on the spooky or paranormal, but this seemed like the clearest kind of clear sign from the great beyond I’d ever seen.

I’ll admit the basic setup of communication from the beyond is enough of a stretch all on its own. Adding to this the notion that the medium could be German motorcycle instruments pushed credulity well beyond my normal limits.

But there it was.

It hit me hard then, and I haven’t really ever gotten past it.

Wierder stuff has probably happened, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly when.