Gearing Up

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

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

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

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

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

And then you must admit that it is time.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

Finn, too, was looking to reinvest.

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

Last Sunday, we got our opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

It’s your classic twisting backroad shortcut.

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

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

Those Givis Look Factory

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

Great visibility.

Lots of forgiving runoff space.

No pressure.

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

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

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

He didn’t need to be told twice.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

My feet still feel hot just remembering it.

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sold.

“Quanto costa?” Finn wanted to know.

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

“But all apparel is 15% off today!”

Finn still looked less than enthused.

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

And indeed it would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can always learn.

Stands up!

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

The Mark of the (Dainese) Devil

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

Stylin’

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Omps, The Indian and the George Washington Heritage Trail

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

I’m used to revs. This wasn’t that.

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

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

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

He may be laughing still.

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

I am never ready to go early.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

“Omps

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

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

What would we do without Wikipedia?

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

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

I liked that screen a lot too.

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

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

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

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

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

Fairing Vents Full Open

Lower Vent Closed

Deflectors Up, Captain

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There isn’t much to Omps, really.

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

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

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

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

DSC_0078

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

***

 

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

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

Drenched

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

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

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

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

Then the weather turned bad.

That sounds innocuous. This wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really.

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord, apparently, was taking a little PTO.

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

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

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

Pure intuition informed my next move.

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

I wasn’t.

Ergo, the engine wasn’t getting fuel.

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

Ummm, water, perhaps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My call was answered.

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possessed

Finn came home for dinner on Sunday.

He had a new friend he thought we should meet.

As he was headed back to his car, he walked past the Blast, that I had parked out in the driveway.

“Goodbye, Satan!”

Finn’s friend said, “Oh, it can’t be that bad…”

“Oh, it can be. You have no idea….”

 

***

 

So yesterday

When it was warm and sunny

I took Satan for a little ride

Satan’s speedometer

stopped working

 

SATAN!

 

***

 

I will never be able to sell this motorcycle

and look myself in the eye in the mirror without knowing shame

Motorcycle

I’d like you to play a little mind game with me.

Break out your mental ‘Etch-a-sketch’ and imagine a motorcycle.

First draw two circles, close to the same size, that describe the wheels. One rectangle towards the rear gives you a bench seat. A jellybean shape provides your fuel tank. A cylinder, maybe two. Give the rider some grips to grab onto, a headlight, and a pipe or two to get noise out of those cylinders, and there it is.

A motorcycle.

Unlike the ‘Famous Artist’s School’ Drawing lessons whose ads festooned a misspent youth’s worth of matchbooks and motorcycle magazines, 4 payments of $4.95 are not required – this drawing lesson is free.

What you’ve drawn looks just like a Honda CB360T. Or a Triumph Bonneville. Or a Norton International, Matchless G12 or a Royal Enfield Bullet.

Your mind’s eye has produced an iconic, simple, classic standard motorcycle.

And in your mind’s eye is likely where that classic motorcycle will stay, because almost no-one still manufactures a product that looks or functions like that.

Think about what motorcycles are out there in the marketplace, and which ones sell in substantial volumes. There are all manner of racetrack refugees – Yamaha YZF-R1s, Suzuki GSXR 1000s, BMW RR1000s, Kawasaki ZX-10s. Such motorcycles are extraordinary pieces of engineering, capable of blistering lap times and stunning top speeds that would have had them on the GP Podiums of 20 years ago.

Most of us, though, just want to get to work with our laptop and lunchbox, take a ride to the grocery store, or put our girlfriend (or boyfriend) on the back seat for a Sunday afternoon ride. Good luck transporting anything bigger than a granola bar, or any SO over 5 feet tall as a passenger on one of these machines.

Other specialized motorcycle designs abound. Heavy Tourers. Sport Tourers. Adventure Bikes. Cruisers. Baggers Bikes with more power, more mass, more suspension travel, more complexity, more function, but with more focus – being good at one thing at the expense of others. Good on the Interstate but a wrestling match in the city. Sweet on a single track but a tall mess on the pavement.

I’m as guilty as any rider of feeding the specialization beast. I have a vintage sport bike, racer boy bubble and all. I have a scrambler – which was riding dirt before anyone coined the term. I have a GT Bike – fairings, panniers and top case – complex adjustable fairings and artsy alternate suspension. It can carve twisty pavement with a week’s gear on board at 80 mph and can do it for weeks at a time. Its motor has a bigger displacement than half the cars in Italy.

My first street motorcycle was a 1973 CB750. It was bone stock – save for a universal chrome tube luggage rack, with a Green Spring Valley Dairy milkcrate bolted on.

Why does it feel like I’ve lost something?

My youngest son Finn is also a rider, and although he gets some, doesn’t really need any encouragement from me. As an Architect in Training, Finn has a developed design eye. When he first started looking at motorcycles, he was immediately drawn to one of those last few remaining classic motorcycles, the Royal Enfield. He intuitively understood the Bullet’s classic design language and intent. Had Finn had as much income as he had discerning taste, he’d have bought one, too.

His first few years in the saddle – using his bike for daily transportation – were spent aboard a Buell Blast single whose purchase was mostly based on the $900 it cost to buy. Being an Architect and not a mechanic, Finn found himself the recipient of increasingly frequent not quite social visits from me and from ever increasing percentages of my toolkit stuffed into the saddlebags of the aforementioned GT bike.

After the Blast’s engine fell out, it became clear, even to me, that some more material adjustments needed to be made to Finn’s riding life, and those adjustments were spelled H-O-N-D-A.

After about 639 phone calls to Baltimore’s Pete’s Cycle, my credit union and my Allstate agent, Finn had a brand new 2016 CB500F parked in my garage – at least until its permanent license plate showed up.

Two circles, one rectangle, one jellybean, some grips, two cylinders, a headlight and a pipe.

Motorcycle.

So it was with a light and expectant heart that I pulled on my leathers and my helmet, and rolled the CB out of my garage.

It’s not difficult to see the classic motorcycles of the past in the CB’s profile. Its parallel twin engine, sit up riding profile, and relaxed footpeg position carry obvious echos of the original CB450 Black Bomber, and the Triumph Bonneville that it was designed to vanquish. There are a few concessions to modernity – the bike’s 471 cc motor is liquid cooled, fuel injected, and has a double overhead cam, 4 valve cylinder head. Honda’s stylists did their best to pay homage to the tank shape and tailsection of Marc Marquez’ championship winning RC213V.

Fingering the starter yields immediate action – the bike’s exhaust note has a whistling quality which comes from the fuel injection pump and the operation of the injectors being the loudest sounds coming from the motor. The CB’s reaction to throttle is immediate – the engine’s square bore and stroke design has almost no flywheel.

On the road, the CB is a dream. The 6 speed transmission shifts positively – downshifts are a treat given the engine’s immediate response to a blips of the throttle. The quality of the engine’s power delivery is sneaky fast – there’s just enough communication to let you know that this is a twin, but the quality of the vibration is always pleasant – at higher RPMs and highway speeds the motor smooths out admirably. Above 6000 rpm that twin is ripping.

Cornering behavior is exemplary – the bike is narrow, weighs just over 400 lbs wet, cuts entries and changes direction like a scalpel and holds its cornering line securely even at extreme lean angles. Suspension is taut but comfortable. The bike’s 4 piston Nissin single rotor front brake is more than enough for the CB’s low mass.

I find myself seeking out tighter and more technical stretches of Frederick County pavement as the tires scrub in. I’m working the bike’s throttle, making full use of all 6 gears, and spending some quality time with the horizon anywhere but horizontal.

The CB500F has not been a sales leader for Honda. This bike was a leftover 2016 that was deeply discounted at the end of the 2017 sales year. On the West Coast, examples can be bought new for more than 35% off the current MSRP. Our American Riding Brothers and Sisters will tell you that its engine is “too small” and that it isn’t track ready, tour ready or adventure ready. All of that misses the point completely. Anywhere else in the world, where 2 wheeled transportation means a world of 125s, 350 Bullets, two strokers and motorscooters, the CB is an aspirational motorcycle – more attractive and better performing at a price that normal humans, and more importantly in the US, young riders, can afford.

Sitting in my driveway looking at the CB with Finn, it’s clear that we agree with those riders. Neither one of us ever gets tired of looking at the CB, and Finn’s opinion is “This is my new favorite thing in the entire world”.

Better still, is the CB is just grin-inducingly and totally fun to ride.

And isn’t that why we ride?

 

 

***

This story originally appeared in the January/February Issue of Motorcycle Times.

 

Donut

All I wanted was a donut.

Is that so wrong?

Judging from the universe’s reaction to this simple animal desire, apparently I should be eating more healthy.

 

***

 

I woke up Saturday morning, and the sun was out in force, my little electronic weather station showed rapidly rising temperatures in the high 30s, my roads were free of snow and ice, and Sweet Doris From Baltimore was in the kitchen starting to whip up a pot of hot coffee.

“You know what I’d really like?” she asked. “A danish.”

Me, of course, I wanted… well, you already know that.

My small town of Jefferson has only a few commercial establishments, but one of the better ones is the Jefferson Pastry Shop, which whips up fresh-baked goods in a tiny building that was the original home of our renowned butcher shop, Hemp’s Meats. Hemp’s, which operated in that roughly 20 by 25 foot building from 1849 until 1981, finally outgrew it and built a building that is roughly 10 times the size that sits at the back of the older building’s parking lot. The two businesses are now neighbors. The Pastry Shop celebrates that history by retaining the old butcher shop’s cast iron overhead hook-and-rail system that was originally used for processing, storage and display of…. the meats.

Hemp’s and the Pastry Shop are no more than 3/4 of a mile from my front door, so they’re a perfect destination — with occasional scenic detour — for a short motorcycle ride. The knife wielding pros at Hemp’s see me so often, that if they hear the sound of a BMW boxer in the parking lot, they know enough to head into the walk-in and grab a fresh sirloin before their front door even opens.

This, though, was a donut run. A donut run, I should point out, by a sleepy, hungry man who had not yet had a cup of coffee. The situation called for the smallest, simplest form of transport available, as I didn’t intend to tarry or to extend the ride.

I just wanted a donut.

So I grabbed the keys to the son Finn’s former Buell Blast, which was sitting closest to the garage door, and is the smallest, lightest motorcycle in the stable by nearly 100 pounds.

In retrospect, this might not have been among my better decisions.

 

***

 

Despite having been sitting for about eight ice storm, snow storm and otherwise shinkage-inducingly cold days, the Blast fired up on the second compression stroke, and came right up to a steady thump-thump-thump of an idle. I rolled it down the driveway and once rolling toed it into first gear.

Whereas I might normally troll around my neighborhood to get some heat in any motor before heading out to The Jefferson Pike, this morning I skipped it.

I just wanted a donut.

And although the throttle response was a little less than crisp, and the gearshifts were a tad high effort due to what was probably close to solid oil in the baby Harley’s primary case, the little motorcycle seemed glad to be alive, and made a happy braap as it pulled me up the Pike toward town.

After only half a minute on the roll, the Pastry Shop was in sight. I caught a break in what passes for traffic in Jefferson, pulled a big hairy U-turn across The Pike, and rolled the little Moto right up next to the curb directly in front of the shop. The shoulder there isn’t wide enough to park any car, but feels custom made for that small motorcycle.

I killswitched it, yanked my lid and went inside.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one on the hunt for sinkers.

In the clusteraphobically small space the shop has left for customers, I was fourth in line. These tight confines enforce a certain intimacy with one’s neighbors and fellow donut enthusiasts. This intimacy meant that the gentleman in front of me couldn’t help but hear the small sighs of disappointment as his enthusiastic order cleared out several of the pastry varieties that were in my personal confection lust list.

Finally, my turn at the counter came up, and I put together a small bag of danish, donuts and a impulse purchase of some fresh coconut macaroons that looked too good to pass on.

I paid the nice lady, headed back outside, dropped my paper bag into the Blast’s soft saddlebag, and pulled my helmet and gloves back on.

I swung a leg over, flipped up the sidestand, pulled in the clutch and pressed the starter.

Instead of the instant thump-thump-thump I expected, on the second compression stroke I heard a distinct ‘FOOOP!’ of some sort of misfire under the tank, and the engine did not catch.

I hit the starter a second time, and the engine spun enthusiastically without even the hint of any action towards actually starting.

My uncaffinated and undonutted mind struggled for comprehension. This bike had been running less than 2 minutes before. What could have possibly happened? The accursed and suspect Blast ‘auto-choke’ no doubt had something to do with this.

I’ll admit that I was in a persistent state of reduced cognitive ability. Reduced Comprehension Greg settled on the idea that the misfire had fouled a spark plug. Wet plugs, of course, will not fire, and not firing clearly was at least one component of what I was experiencing.

In my rising state of frustration, on the road to panic, I opened the throttle slightly and pressed the starter again. For 10 full seconds the big single spun to no effect. Since it clearly wasn’t working, and I was out of ideas, I tried it one more time.

Coffee withdrawal is an ugly, ugly thing — rendering its victims clinically insane — and there I was, trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

My diagnosis was clear – total bikesanity.

Finally, after the better part of a minute of impotent ‘whoop-whooop-whoooop’ing, reality finally pierced through the fog.

This little bike had nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Donut.

Looked like I was going to need a plan B.

 

***

 

In retrospect, I probably just should have taken my helmet off and eaten a donut.

But I didn’t do that.

It’s an admitted character flaw that when something goes pearshaped, I go full-on monomaniacal until things are fixed.

It’s not like we’re talking about a long distance — I can just about see the street in front of my house from the back of the bakery’s parking lot.

In the scheme of things, The Blast is a relatively small motorcycle — running about 375 pounds with a half tank of fuel. Jefferson Pike, running back from town, is mostly downhill. Not entirely, but mostly.

“WTF,” I thought, I’ll just push and drift the bike back home. How hard could it be?”

The less detail I share about what a poor decision that was the better. Sufficient to say that with no fuel in my personal tank, my blood sugar, and with it, my access to muscular energy, went red zone about 3/4s of the way home.

While scouting a short cut across a back yard leading into the neighborhood, a dog that was tied out went into full freak-out mode. The backdoor of the house slid open, and Finn’s buddy Rachel appeared.

“Hi Rachel! Bike broke — mind if I cut across your yard?”

“Hey, knock yourself out. You need a little help?”

“Sure — front of your yard is a little soft. If you could just help me get back onto the cul-de-sac, that would be great.”

Rachel stepped right up, grabbed the right handlebar, and helped move my wheels back to the pavement. In this sad little tale, Rachel is our hero, earning herself her first example of biker beer debt.

A little more puffing and a fair amount of sweating later, I found myself at the bottom of my driveway, with just one uphill sprint to get back in the barn. I think that repeat of my cardiac stress test I’d been thinking about can probably wait another year.

Now it was past time for that cup of coffee. And maybe two donuts.

 

***

 

A day or two later, I found myself with a few minutes and yanked the Blast’s tank to that I could access the plug. With the Harley Davidson branded plug in my hand, it was instantly clear my low-sugar addled prior diagnostics had been dead wrong.

The plug was dry and looked like a textbook perfect spot-on tuning illustration from the bike’s shop manual. I hooked the plug wire back up, grounded the plug to the primary case, pressed the starter, and got a big fat, perfect spark.

Given the classic moto-diagnostic trinity of air, fuel and spark, spark was clearly not my problem. Air is all around us, so fuel was the likely culprit. I moved in close to the Blast’s cylinder head and carb, and then literally smacked myself in the face with the palm of my hand. The ‘FOOOOP!’ that I’d heard wasn’t a plug getting fouled, it was a misfire in the intake that had blown the carb clean off the engine. Had it not been bolted into the side of the airbox, I’d have likely found it on the other side of the Jefferson Pike.

Shouldn’t this…. be connected to THAT?

I’ll admit I spent a few minutes trying to route a manual choke cable, adapter and slide I’d had stashed on the workbench, but the Blast’s undertank packaging makes that very challenging — the area on the back side of the bike’s Keihin CV40 carb is the most crowded real-estate in the entire machine.

Once again frustrated in this, I reassembled the bike in the stock configuration — complete with accursed ‘auto-choke’ — and upon completion, it fired back up as if nothing had ever occurred.

Given that – in typical Maryland fashion – the string of freezing nights had segued into a freak warm snap, the just after sundown temperature of about 70 degrees was too much tempting to pass on — it was time to check my work.

Without turning the bike off, I went inside and grabbed my canvas field coat, my Bell 500 open face and my elkskin gauntlets. The first warm day was too soon for bugs, so a full face and its visor were optional.

Running down Horine Road on an inexplicably sensual tropical feeling February evening, the big single got a little heat in it, and really came alive. Despite the fact that I want so much to hate this motorcycle — given all the trouble it has caused me — I just can’t quite manage to get there.

Although I’m too young to remember a riding world dominated by BSA, Norton, Velocette and Matchless singles, the ghosts of those old 59 Club Rockers were riding alongside me this evening. As the Blast’s 500 single found its happy place well up in the rev band in third gear, the pulse of the machine spoke to me in my bones. Horine Road follows Catoctin Creek away from Jefferson heading down toward the Potomac, and the Blast danced through a series of increasingly tight and technical corners — turning in lightly on trailing throttle, exhaust burbling — taking throttle easily and using all of the engine’s torque on each corner’s exit.

The motorcycling world may have moved on and left this behind, but there is an undenyable charm to a 500 Single ridden well in its element, and that charm was fully evident this springlike evening.

I followed Maryland 464 across the back of town — shifting up to fourth gear and running between 50 and 60 mph and marvelling at the torque and acceleration it could muster with its revs up on the exits of 464’s sweeping corners. Lander Road’s roller coaster hills brought me back to town, and I found myself back in the driveway far sooner than I’d have preferred.

I’ll admit that after turning off the engine, I turned the key back on and restarted it, just to know.

Of course, with only a three step walk home, there was no drama this time.

I think though, that for breakfast I’ll stick to some fresh fruit and yogurt from now on.

Free To Go

From almost the first days that I rode my BMW /5 motorcycle, it was clear that it was nearly as capable in the dirt as it was on pavement.

Now we’re not talking Travis Pastrana backflip dirt, or Erzberg Rodeo dirt, but simple, straightforward feet up enduro riding dirt. On fire roads or reasonably sane trails in the woods, the boxer-engined Wunderbike was surprisingly competent when ridden rationally and within certain fairly sensible limits.

The fact that I know about those limits begs more than a few tales.

The first limit involves the limits of the tires fitted to the bike. Over 35 years of riding it, my tire choices have slowly evolved from the ubiquitous Continental SuperTwins street tires of the early eighties, through a series of mild dual sport skins like Avon Distanzias, to the set of Heidenau Scouts that I’m getting ready to fit. What one can do with this motorcycle in the loose stuff involves how much stick one’s skins can provide.

The second limit involves mass management. The great drive and good torque make tractoring up incredible grades — tire grip permitting — almost trivial. Working down the same grade on 450 plus pounds of motorcycle is … less trivial. I never recall experiencing unplanned vehicle rider separation going up hills. I did, however, get fairly skilled in learning to pick up and recover the motorcycle when facing down grades. Sadly, what goes up must eventually come down, but some planning is your friend here.

Water crossings are also well within the boxer’s capabilities… the older bikes, with their air intakes up on the frame backbones, are good swimmers… as long as the water level is under the roundels, you’re good!

As a youthful boxer affectionado, I sought out every trail and offroad opportunity I could find. The Baltimore City watershed, starting from Loch Raven park, had multiple trails that were built to support water lines, power lines, and other infrastructure, and the /5’s near-silent stock exhaust allowed me to explore without disturbing other park users or attracting the wrong kind of attention. Activities which would have brought the long arm of the law down swiftly and hard on my two-stroke riding contemporaries never resulted in any awkward conversations with the constable. Being street legal meant coming out near a public road at the end of trail just meant throttling up and disappearing into the normal flow of traffic.

The Pretty Boy reservoir system and the Papapsco State Park System … which was within a 10 minute ride of my early work location at the Social Security Administration’s Woodlawn Datacenter also provided hours of exploring and honing my dirt rider’s skills. I might not yet know everything that BMW’s Factory ISDT riders knew about boxering the dirt, but the gap was slowly narrowing.

Which brings me to my most exciting dirt adventure.

Sometime in the mid 1980’s I headed west out of my then-home of Baltimore to my first BMW Rally — the Baltimore and Metropolitan Washington BMW riders (BMWBMW) Square Route Rally — based out of the American Legion’s Camp West-Mar outside of Thurmont Maryland. 30 plus years later, I live in Frederick County, but to young Rally Pup, the green mountainsides, twisting roads and deep forest were like another planet.

On Saturday afternoon of the Rally, after field events had wrapped and way before dinner, a natural lull presented me with what sure seemed like an opportunity to explore. The old American Legion Camp is laid out like any military installation, with a ring of barracks arranged around a Mess Hall. On the far edge of the Camp, two barracks are separated by a slightly larger gap, and that gap contained a dual track that disappeared into a green tunnel into the woods.

The temptation was more than I could possibly bear.

I pulled on my gloves and helmet, kicked the bike — which still had its original 4-speed then — to life, and quietly motored into the green.

For a guy whose home was in the brick rows of the BelAir/Edison neighborhood of Baltimore city, it was absolutely heaven. The trail was a grass and mossy dual track, with a heavy tree canopy that allowed the sun to filter through in places. Speed wasn’t important. Just maintaining headway and reading the trail was completely immersive. I was focused, calm, centered.

As I exited a corner in that trail, though, I heard an unfamiliar sound.

“CHAKA-CHAKA-CHAKA-CHACKA-KA-CHAKA-CHACK-CHACK-CHACK…”

I pulled the clutch in and coasted to a stop. I knew every noise that motorcycle made, and I was fairly confident this wasn’t any of them.

I was having a full-on ‘Mr. Jones Moment’ again — I knew something was happening, I just didn’t know what it was, yet.

I peered ahead into the forest, squinted a little, and as I did, the unexpected sight of a squad of fully armed United States Marines in tactical gear slowly came into focus out of the camouflaged position where they’d been invisible mere seconds before.

My /5, known for a slight noisy top end, hadn’t hung a valve. The “CHAKA-CHAKA” had been the sounds of 16 M-16 safeties coming off.

The Squad Leader addressed me in that subtle and gentle manner for which the United States Marines are renowned.

“THIS IS A RESTRICTED AREA!”

I took about three-quarters of a second to absorb this, and then about another three-quarters of a second waiting for my heart to restart.

“Am I free to go?”

“Yes, Sir.”

I gently dropped the clutch, did about the smoothest in place O-turn I’ve done before or since, and gently headed back towards Camp West-Mar along the same vector from which I’d come.

Now, folks that have spent their entire lives in Thurmont Maryland are well aware that Camp West-Mar isn’t the only installation back in them there woods. Seems that there’s also a little place called Camp David, and the two camps, as I now fully understand, share an extended property line.

Seems The Boss Was In Town that weekend, along with his heavily armed little friends, I was the only dimwit that wasn’t fully aware of same.

You do your Adventure Riding, and I’ll Do Mine.

With a change of underwear, and a cold beer (or two), I’d be just fine.