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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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

Loud

Maryland doesn’t have winters.

Its a major reason why motorcycling me chose to settle here.

Oh, sure, it snows every once in while. And while every once in a great while you might even have to take a shovel in hand and do something about it, most Maryland snows can be waited out — ignore them for a few days and they go away.

If I, as a Marylander, were to attempt to convince someone from the Southern Tier of New York, or Wisconsin, or Vermont, or Montana, that I experienced actual Winters, I would not hear the end of their riotous laughter until we both were experiencing flowers blooming all up verifiable spring.

Which is why its a tad odd that we Marylanders just punched out of a 23 day period where we never saw any temperature above the freezing mark, with a full 10 day run of nights in the low single digits. We didn’t get any snow – we just froze our collective butts off. So instead of riding, we spent our time feeding the woodstove, nursing some Union Snow Pants Oatmeal Imperial Stouts and cursing under our breaths while we plotted our rider’s revenge against the cold.

All of these motorcycling hostile conditions meant that many things we would normally do remained frustratingly undone.

Then, in classic Maryland fashion, it went from a daytime high of 18 to a daytime high of 67 in a single day.

Unsurprisingly, I more or less sprinted straight to the garage, hopped on the LT, and turned the key. Older K bikes have a few signals they send using the ABS lights. Normal operation consists of both ABS lights blinking on and off together on power up. If the battery fails to meet the minimum ABS arming voltage, they will blink alternately — first one, then the other. This time, the ABS lights lit, then went out altogether, the system spontaneously reset, and then assumed the normal start sequence. I let the bike sit for about 20 seconds with the key on just to get some current flowing, then pressed the starter button.

If the LT has ever cranked slower than it did that day, I don’t remember it. On the first spin, it didn’t fire. On the second try, as I found myself considering the possibility it might not fire, it finally did, assuming its customary slightly diesely sounding cold idle. As the instruments all assumed normal operation, the bike’s thermometer displayed 13 degrees f, indicating just how cold things had gotten inside my closed garage. I rolled the bike down the driveway, toed it into gear, and said quiet thanks as the ABS trashcanned to life, indicating my battery was at least a little more healthy than I’d given it credit for.

15 miles or so of sunny Valley roads later, my motorcycling life had itself thawed out, and my attention returned to rides long delayed.

 

***

 

First on the list was to reclaim Finn’s Buell Blast, which had been sitting idle in his apartment’s parking garage in Greenbelt since before the holiday break and the subsequent deep freeze. The Blast needed to contribute it’s Battery Tender and harness, a modified version of the toolkit I’d assembled for it and its soft saddlebags to the new CB500F that would replace it for the soon coming semester. It also needed some minor service – most notably the installation of a new quiet core baffle for its Jardine exhaust.

A quick look at the weather report showed a Saturday with a daytime high in the high 50s or low 60s, and so the plan was outlined — load up a car with school supplies, computer gear and some groceries for pre-positioning for the start of classes, and head down to reclaim the little single. To those necessities I added my tire inflator and a battery charger/jumper — given the drama associated with waking up the LT post freeze, I wanted to be prepared for possible drama.

 

***

 

The drive down to Greenbelt was sunny, smooth and uneventful — which, given that we’re talking about Metro DC, is by itself noteworthy. Upon arrival at Finn’s place, we offloaded our cargo into his apartment, grabbed some hydration, made a comfort stop, and visited the property’s management office to register the CB in their parking records and take care of some other administrativia.

We headed back upstairs, and went back into the parking structure where I pulled on my gear. I grabbed my inflator and topped up the tires, which were just a bit below spec. I pulled on my helmet, strapped on my elkskin gauntlets, and swung a leg over the Blast’s low saddle. I opened up the fuel petcock, and turned on the ignition.

I’d been concerned about drama about starting a flash frozen bike.

I’d needn’t have been concerned. The Blast, like my Slash 5, has a Deka AGM battery, and these batteries hold a charge better when stored and deliver more cold cranking power than any other motorcycle batteries I’ve ever used.

The Blast spun up hard, and fired on the third compression stroke.

There was no question whatsoever that the 500 single was running.

Finn’s eyes narrowed to slits before he ducked and rolled away from the bike. Without the quiet core inside the Jardine muffler, and inside the concrete cave of the parking structure, the din was absolutely staggering. Out of reflex more than intention, I blipped the throttle.

That was a mistake.

With the butterflies open, what had been merely stupid loud changed to mind-erasing cacophony.

I leaned over toward Finn.

“I’m going to head up I-95 towards 32. Give me about a 10-15 minute head start, so If I run into any mechanical issues, at least you’ll be somewhere out behind me.”

Finn just looked confused and pointed both index fingers towards his ears and shrugged.

I grabbed his head with both gloved hands and pulled him into the eyeport of my Shoei. I rebroadcast the message — only louder this time.

This time I could see comprehension on Finn’s face. He responded with a simple thumbs up.

I gassed the Blast and headed toward the ramp out of the garage.

Given the Blast’s relatively narrow powerband, low power output and short throw throttle, my normal riding approach involves pretty aggressive application of throttle. As I rolled the throttle open to get the bike headed towards the first of the three ramps that would get me out of the garage and out to the street, it was clear the normal method would require some situational modification. Every time I even cracked the throttle inside the parking structure, the increase in sound volume was well nigh unbearable.

I basically coasted the Blast down the three ramps, though the automated security gate, and out into the street.

Once I was outside the parking structure, I figured it might be OK to finally open the throttle.

I was again wrong.

The street that leads away from the apartment runs between two apartment blocks — cracking the throttle in that masonry canyon had the net impact of delaying the echo of the noise coming back from the Blast’s motor for a few extra milliseconds, but was still nearly unbearably loud.

Finally, the street took me away from spaces defined by concrete and brick, and out into the open. The standard Buell design, with the exhaust exit located under the bike just in front of the rear tire, meant that the rider was mostly isolated from the sound, but anyone located in a roughly 160 degree section to the sides and rear of the motorcycle, was being exposed to sound that was more suitable to a racetrack or a combat theater than a public road.

At the end of Greenbelt Road I briefly turned on to Kenilworth Road and then opened the butterflies wide and accelerated up the ramp and onto the DC Beltway, surfing the pressure waves of this overwhelming sound. I had to admit, with the exhaust core removed, the Blast was making more power over a wider spread or RPMs. On the flip side, though, as I passed a car topping out 4th gear, I looked briefly to the side, and was greeted with the sight of all 4 of the car’s occupants gaping slackjawed and googly-eyed straight at me.

That told me pretty much what I needed to know.

It was going to be a long 50 miles back to Jefferson.

I don’t want you to think for a minute I’m some sort of internal combustion sound prude. I enjoy the sound of a well-tuned and appropriately muffled motorcycle as much as the next guy. But the sound coming out of the Blast was in no way anything like that.

I’ve spend my fair share of time enjoying the Barabara Fritchie Motorcycle Classic — America’s longest continually running Half Mile Flat Track Event. I have also been known to hang out at Airshows and Commemorative Air Force fly-ins, where old warbirds like the famous B-17 Memphis Belle are shown and flown.

Net/net is that with a open drag pipe and straight through resonator, the Harley Davidson based 500cc single was less MotoGuzzi LeMans (Bella!) and more flat-out XR750 or Wright Cyclone on take-off roll (plus or minus 8 to 35 cylinders). The sound is an all-out sonic assault — it hits you in the diaphragm — right in the solar plexus — it scrambles one’s brains and takes one’s breath clean away. The sound is a combination of intake growl and basso profundo roar — it makes no sense whatsoever that this tsunami of sound is coming from this diminutive motorcycle.

Fortunately, I’d planned my route so much of it was at less than Interstate warp speed — MD 32 is a secondary road where 50 to 60 miles an hour is the prevailing speed — so I could loaf down these roads in either the top of 4th gear or the bottom of 5th with minimal throttle openings.

After running across much of the state on MD32 I came back to Interstate 70. Once clear of Baltimore — especially headed west — drivers fly out here. There would be no loafing on the next stretch. I roared up the ramp and settled in at about 76 mph to be able to blend in to prevailing traffic.

After all of the grief it has caused me, and all of the shade Finn and I have thrown its way, I’ll admit I got a little thrill from having the loud little monster run this well — probably as well as it ever has. Sound pressure not withstanding, the bike was making better top gear power than it ever had — it was pulling 5th gear with authority from under 70 miles an hour, and 70 to 80 mph pulls felt pretty strong. Of course power on a single most times equates to vibration, and I was taking quite the beating at speed.

Just about New Market, with about 70 miles showing on the tripmeter, the Blast stumbled as it hit reserve. Unlike my customary practice, for some reason I didn’t mind the notion of a fuel stop.

I rolled into a High’s where the Buell took a whopping 1.1 gallons of fuel. I’d noticed some visual telltales that my blood sugar was headed dangerously low — in our excitement Finn and I had skipped lunch — so I grabbed some fruit juice for my own tank which instantly set things right.

I rode the roar back up through the gears – accelerating as hard as a Blast ever does – then cruised past Frederick, over the ridge into the Valley, and was shortly up the driveway and killswitching into blessed and welcome echoing silence.

Due to the gas stop, Finn had just beaten me home.

“Man, Pop, I heard you all the way down the ramps in the garage, all the way up Greenbelt Road, and accelerating up the ramp onto the Beltway. That bike is some kind of obnoxious.”

“Yup, it sure is. Let me take off my ‘Stich and as soon as The Blast cools off we’ll put in the new quiet core that’s sitting on the workbench. No way I’m running that bike again without the cork installed.”

Bonding

In the life of a motorcyclist, taking delivery on a brand new motorcycle is one of those milestone moments that becomes a nexus around which your entire riding experience revolves.

In more than 30 years in the saddle, I’ve only bought myself one new motorcycle.

That wasn’t going to change today.

 

***

 

After my son Finn’s Buell Blast had proven itself not quite up to the task of being reliable, daily transportation, it became more or less obvious that, in the interest of his safety, a more modern and well engineered motorcycle needed to be obtained. It may have been more obvious to Sweet Doris From Baltimore, Finn’s Mother, and less obvious to me, but no matter.

I did some searches on Cycle Trader to check real world values on some of the motorcycles that I thought would represent a step up in power and handling for Finn, while not completely breaking the family bank.

I’ll admit, that especially when it comes to motorcycles, I’ve got opinions.

After surveying the market for my small target group of medium displacement twins — 650 Versys, FZ-7s, CB500Fs — the CB500F was quickly identified as the most versatile machine that could be obtained for the least dollar. A John Burns review of the CB — in which Burnsie shared that the motorcycle had totally surprised him by its capabilty, and left him in the difficult position, for a motorcycle reviewer, or having absolutely nothing to kvetch about — convinced me this was the one. There were leftover CBs in dealer inventory all across the country, and a nice one was located for the right price in Baltimore at Pete’s Cycle.

65 miles from the front door.

Sold.

After many, many, MANY phone calls working the entire sale remotely, and then a few more calls with my Credit Union taking a small loan, the deal was done. $93 a month was a bill I can cover for Finn until he graduates, and once he is gainfully employed, I can sign both the title and payment book over to him.

Welcome to adulting lesson one.

Now all we had to do was pick it up.

 

***

 

In your rose colored fantasy motorcycling world, when you pick up your new motorcycle, you are standing on some dealership lot in Huntington Beach or Cosa Mesa, it’s 84 degrees out, the Pacific Breeze washes over your skin, everybody is wearing jams, sneakers and shades and calling each other ‘Dude’.

Now let’s snap out of it and get to the real world, shall we, Bucko?

When Finn and I got up on our anointed Saturday morning, it was 36 degrees out, cloudy, windy, and with a radar trace that showed a stationary front hanging out just to the north of Jefferson where it was dropping light rain and even some sleet in places.

Just ‘effin perfect.

Finn, it should be clearly stated, is a night owl. So right off the bat he wasn’t at his absolute best as we were sucking down some coffee and cereal and trying to bolt together a plan.

“First, this is your bike, so you have to get first saddle time. So, we can either throw our riding gear in your Corolla, drive to Baltimore, and you can head back out this way with me available to take a shift if it gets too cold or rainy, or you can ride cupcake on the LT and we can make a moto trip out of the deal.”

“Let’s take your bike.”

That’s my boy.

“Good, nobody ever got wet riding an LT, and on the way back out at least I can talk to you from a bike to see how you’re doing …”.

 

***

 

Finn and I got fully geared up — me in my second skin the ‘stitch, and Finn in his insulated textile riding pants, jacket and gloves — both of us with a light technical fleece to layer up for warmth underneath.

The weather report showed rapidly rising temperatures, so I felt pretty good about our prospects. The only concern was the behavior of that stationary front — Baltimore was forecast to stay dry, but Jefferson was not — so it was inevitable that somewhere on the way back our trip would break bad. It was just a question of how far west and how close to home we would be when that happened.

Finn and I headed for the garage and threw up the door behind the LT. While I was dialing in a few clicks of preload, Finn was fastening his helmet and gazing down the driveway.

“It’s raining.”

“Of course it is. We should punch back out of it on the other side of Frederick. I’ll roll the Fat Girl down to the bottom of the driveway. You pull the door down and meet me down there.”

20 seconds later, he was comfortably astride the LT’s pillion, and we were shields up and heading for Pete’s and Baltimore.

 

***

 

Somewhere between Frederick and Mount Airy, and maybe a few more miles further east than I’d been hoping, we did punch back into the clear, and the temperature finally started to rise in a meaningful way.

If there’s one thing an LT is built for, it’s carrying full bags and a passenger, and doing its best to vaporize some miles. With a pillion up, the bike runs smoother and handles better, and with a new motorcycle waiting on the other end, running 80+ on the Interstate seemed like something both of us would naturally want to do.

When we hit the more congested Baltimore Beltway, I backed it down a few, selecting a speed that was just 3 or 4 above prevailing traffic, so we could pick our spots of clear pavement and try to defend them.

Belair Road came up soon enough, and less than a mile south of the exit I made the left turn into Pete’s parking lot. The business is built on the side of a hill, so the parking lot slopes pretty sharply down towards the rear of the building, where there is a motorized security gate and the Service Department’s entrance.

I’ll admit that parking an 850 plus pound motorcycle on steep grades does not appeal to me, so I cut to the right inside the lot and found a nice level spot next to the razor wire topped fence that borders Belair Road.

Pete’s Cycle Company is located in Fullerton, a neighborhood located in Northeast Baltimore. When a young, CB750-riding me had last been their customer, they had a storefront located in Hamilton, a neighborhood located about 5 miles to the south and closer to the center of the city. About 20 years ago, they made a business decision to move out of the location where they had done business for more than 60 years to a larger facility. This location is a few miles further from the troubled neighborhoods that are the home turf of the city’s ’12 O’Clock Boys’. The ‘Boys’ got their name because of their advanced skills illegally riding dirtbikes with their front forks pointing to the noon position. Dealers throughout the entire Mid-Atlantic region, from York, PA., to Staunton, VA., have had visits from ‘The Boys’ to make crash and grab nighttime dirtbike withdrawals, so those few miles are probably not signficant. But between the cameras, razor wire, barred windows and mechanized gates, one can tell Pete’s isn’t going to make such extreme discounts easy to obtain.

After stowing our helmets and gloves in the LT’s cases, a slightly chilly-appearing Finn and I headed into the building to look for our salesman.

I’ve been in my fair share of motorcycle dealerships, but the view upon entering Pete’s was a bit of a shock.

Right inside the door were 3 Polaris Slingshots — including one with a roof that I’d never seen before. Next to these were a half dozen or so Can-Am Spyders. The rest of the substantial showroom was jammed with bikes — Hondas, Ducatis, Trimuphs, Suzukis, Kawasakis — heck, there was even a nicely cruisered-out Royal Enfield, but it looked like a bike someone had traded in.

Remembering that the motorcycle we were buying was not a ‘planned motorcycle’, to avoid further trouble I went well out of my way to avoid the Africa Twin and NC700x that Pete’s had on the floor.

One of the folks roaming the floor asked if we needed any assistance.

“Yup. I’m looking for Jim Stantz.”

“Ok, that’s him in the black windbreaker all the way over ….there.”

Just what I needed — a reason to traverse the entire showroom. It was almost like making a desperate alcoholic walk across the entire liquor warehouse. Eyes down…eyes down….

“Hey Guys! You must be Greg and Finn. You guys rode in from Frederick today?”

“Yeah, its raining out our end..nice enough here in Baltimore, though.”

“Our business manager — you’ll be meeting with him in a minute — rode in from Frederick this morning, too…said the same thing. The bike’s out back. You want to see her before we do the paperwork?”

Well, yeah.

Jim walked us down the back stairs and out past the service department. Pete’s has a covered back porch where the new motorcycles are placed after they’ve been prepped for delivery. Right outside the door was our CB500F.

Maybe all bikes look better in person than they do in stock photos. Whether they generally do or not, this one sure did.

I took a quick sideways glance over at Finn, and he was slackjawed and googly-eyed in a look of pure, unadulterated motopleasure.

The CB was finished in all flat black, with its tailsection and radiator cowls finished in silver. The tank had a nice Shelby-style dual racing stripe applied down the center of the tank. The engine was also painted black, with the clutch, alternator and valve covers painted in a copper color to mimic the magnesium cases that Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) uses on their RC racing specials. The shapes of the tank and tail section, as well, were intended to mimic those of the big CBR100R and its motoGP big brother, the RC213v.

For what is admittedly a reasonably priced street motorcycle, the CB gives an enthusiast a great deal to look at and to enjoy.

As Finn’s initial state of pleased shock wore off, I asked him if he wanted to sit on the bike.

He slowly walked around the left side of the machine, gripped the front brake lever and threw a leg over.

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The bike fit him like it was made for him.

Jim walked him through the features and controls of the bike. Finn set the adjuster of the front brake lever to fit his hand.

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Finn turned the key, and watched as the instrument display went hits animated calibration routine. The odometer display read “0.7”. He pulled the clutch in, and pressed the starter.

The bike started from cold on the second compression stroke, and what filled the air around us was the sound of a thoroughly modern motorcycle — the high pitched ‘wheep-wheep-wheep’ of the high pressure fuel pump and the fuel injectors opening and closing. With the water cooling jackets and double overhead cams there was no noise from the reciprocating parts of the engine whatsoever — no valve noise, no piston clatter. The exhaust had a nice brap to it without being obnoxious — a pleasant change from a big single with a drag pipe — and the engine responded to throttle by spinning up absolutely instantly — clearly flywheel mass hadn’t been anywhere on the engineering requirements.

We sat for a few seconds listening to the CB’s perfect steady idle, and then Finn killswitched it.

“C’mon, guys — let’s sign a few papers and get you out of here and back on the road.”

And that was really all there was to it. I was ushered into the business manager’s office, made my downpayment, signed the sales order and the title work, and we were back downstairs again in a flash.

Finn rolled the CB off the porch, and pushed the bike through the mechanized gate, which then motored shut behind us.

Jim reminded Finn he was on a set of new, unscrubbed tires.

“No horsin’ around until they’re scrubbed in, eh?”

Jim then shook our hands, thanked us for our business, wished us a safe ride home, and went back inside the dealership. I walked up the hill and retrieved Finn’s helmet and gloves from the LT’s cases.

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Ready to Roll

“You want to take a few loops around the parking lot just to get a feel for the clutch and brakes? When you’re done you can pull up next to the building up by the entrance there, and I can lead us back to the highway. Lemme go get my gear on.”

As I walked back up the hill to my bike, Finn motored up and down the hill in the parking lot a few times. There was a wider area down at the bottom of the lot that worked well for turning around. Finn seemed almost instantly comfortable on the CB — clutch and throttle control were spot on, no extra revs, and he visibly worked the bike from side to side underneath him to get a feel for the mass and turn-in response. By the time I had my second glove on, he was already waiting for me at the exit.

I fired the LT back up, did my U-turn, and rolled up beside Finn and the CB.

“We should probably just go back to the beltway just to get the heck out of town. Once we get on the highway, you lead, pick your own pace, and I’ll keep people off your six. Vary speeds a bit — speed up and then slow down — during the first couple of miles. Then we can run out to Maryland 32 where we can pick up Maryland 144 which will give us a nice backroad ride back to Frederick. Sound like a plan?”

“Sounds perfect. Let’s go.”

And with that we gassed it and headed back up Belair Road.

 

***

 

Watching Finn in my rearviews was easy — the CB’s new tech LED headlight made it completely stand out from the background and from other vehicles.

It wasn’t until I got home later that I had to conclude that at least one Honda Design Engineer watches too many ‘Transformers’ cartoons. Or Gundam Anime. Or something.

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You tell me you don’t see Optimus Prime

Finn’s run up the Beltway was a little tentative, which is exactly what you’d hope to see. As we hit the onramp to I-695 West, though, Finn cut in smoothly and gently rolled the gas as we got to the apex. Both Finn and his new bike looked rock solid.

Fortunately, we got a rare break in the traffic and were able to enter the highway with no frantic adjustments to line or to speed.

As we cleared the interchange, I moved determinedly right, and motioned with my gloved hand for Finn to move by.

The first sound I heard was that of the CB breathing — again that little whistle of the FI plumbing working — then the bike moved smartly past — followed by a very well-defined, metallic ‘Braaap’ of the CB’s twin pulling about 5000 rpm.

You can tell a lot, sometimes, from people’s body language, and shifting up to top gear, Finn was sitting poised and tall.

So we worked our way back around the Beltway and out to I-70, doing our best to keep the CB varying load and speed, and trying to avoid the inevitable flow control chaos that inhabits each of the interchanges. It was fun, and as we hit some clear pavement on 70 West, I enjoyed watching Finn further feeling the CB out. He’d settle in around 70 or so, and then give the bike some enthusiastic throttle and move smartly away. Smooth, flexible power to move freely in highway traffic wasn’t a given on his Blast.

When we rolled up on 32, I passed Finn and led down the interchange. I led us through the left and a right to put us on Frederick Road, headed west towards Jefferson.

Considering how the day had started, conditions weren’t half bad — intermittent clouds and sun, dry pavement, and a temperature in the low 50s. Where the interstate removed the hills, 144 slides around them — the road is always rising and falling, and twisting this way or that.

For a young man with a brand new motorcycle, this flat-lighted day was his first opportunity to get to know and bond with his machine.

 

***

 

The time we spent on that rolling road seemed to stretch out that day, a few good minutes seeming to hang in time for a lot longer than they actually were.

At a stop sign I pulled up beside Finn and popped my visor open.

“How’s the CB, man? How are ya liking this road?”

“This thing’s absolutely awesome, Pop. And I’d like the road a lot more if I had any freakin’ idea where I was.”

“That’s cool, Finn. And I know where I am, so I’ll lead. Pick a good following distance, and ride your own pace.”

And so we rolled — moving up and down through the gears, and breaking in the sides of new tires as we crossed first through Howard, then Carroll Counties. That LED headlamp was there in my mirrors, cornering crisply and doing all the right things.

 

***

 

On the other side of Mount Airy, though, things finally went bad. 144 West runs in shadow, it’s tight and it’s twisty, and today it was dark and was cold.

With no warning the rain hit, the temperature dropped sharply, and my biker sense looked at that road and what it saw was slippy not sticky — it was cause for concern.

At the next stop I signaled.

“You want to stop – eat – warmup…or just wanna get home?”

“I’m OK – let’s keep bangin’.”

“OK – weather is going to shit. I’m going to hop back on the highway and we’ll take it back to 340 and home. We’ll make the left up ahead and the ramp is immediately on the right.”

We rolled our bikes back up through the gears and as we merged onto the highway I waved Finn on by. As the rain picked up the temperature dropped into the low 40s. On a naked motorcycle, it couldn’t have been fun.

Not all motorcycle bonding experiences, I guess, have to be pleasant ones. The tough stuff, it seems, is some of what it takes to learn to trust your machine.

 

***

 

As we got closer to Jefferson, the weather continued to display its blatant disregard for our well-being.

Both Finn and I managed to get through the complex interchange at 70 West and US 340 — with its elevated ramps crisscrossed by 5 inch wide steel expansion joints — evil slippery stuff on a rainy day like this. No wiggles, no goofy stuff, no falling down. Just continue to gas it and go.

We maintained positive throttle coming up Dynamometer Hill, and on the other side of the hill we took the exit for home. I pulled ahead as we ran though town, and hit the neighborhood and then the driveway well before Finn.

I dismounted and threw both doors up by the time Finn rolled up.

He rolled the CB into the left bay, blipped the throttle once, again, and then killswitched the bike.

“This is such a nice motorcycle. Thank you. Thank Mom. As soon as I finish school in June, we are GOING on a trip.”

Clearly getting chilled down and dampened hadn’t done anything to hurt Finn’s enthusiasm.

“C’mon man, let me fire the woodstove up and make us some lunch. You can look for someplace for us to ride to while we’re warming up.”

The Costa Mesa Bros got nothin’ on us.

 

I Surrender

I never thought it would come to this.

When I bought Finn his Buell Blast, my operative assumption had been that a piece of machinery that simple couldn’t really break in any meaningful way.

That assumption has proved so repeatedly wrong I find myself humbled in ways to which I am simply not accustomed.

I’m not merely wrong. I’m colossally, cosmically, monumentally, fundamentally and eternally totally wrong.

My shame in this knows no bounds.

 

***

 

I don’t know, but after I put the motor back in after it fell out, I had what I guess was a false sense of security.

The Blast seemed much more solid on the road, and on a warmer day — say 70 degrees — the carburation seemed spot on and it was making good power.

Bliss, they say, is fleeting.

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Another series of texts from Finn.

When these arrive out of the blue the import is seldom good.

“Stinking bike blew the quiet core out of the muffler.

You’d think I’d have noticed THAT when it happened. 😉

Checked back on the ground in the garage. It’s gone.”

How the asshole reduction baffle — Jardine calls it a ‘quiet core’ — intended to make their racetrack pipe almost socially acceptable — could have been shaken loose is beyond me. I’d used blue locktite on the baffle securing bolt and added a fillet of high temp copper silicone to secure the insert in the exhaust outlet. That insert should have been in there. Instead, it was outta here.

So now the Blast was blasting around sounding like an asshole’s motorcycle.

Then the temperature went under 40 degrees and the bike’s not exactly auto auto choke decides it doesn’t want to fully disengage. A good running motorcycle transforms into an unridable mess — backfires, momentary power loss.

If you are trying to run down Greenbelt Road or US1 in the left lane in morning rush, a big hairy backfire and three seconds of no power are enough to get one steamrolled. It ain’t fun, and it sure ain’t safe.

When this information was shared, Sweet Doris from Baltimore overrevved and threw a rod. “My baby boy is going to get run over by some Crazy PG County Driver on that ‘motorcycle’.”

No mas. Make it stop.

I really wanted to like the Blast. A small light simple single. Descendant of the Vincent Comet.

But it kept betraying me. Shaking parts off. Developing the same intake leaks, carb warmup and drivability problems.

It’s goddamn engine fell out, for Pete’s sakes.

I still want to like the Blast.

Maybe if throw out its fuel tank, carburetor and ignition and replace them with modern components I might yet.

But when I look at it now, all I see is a motorcycle that has been trying to encourage people to run over my son, and an undeniable evidence of my utter and indelible wrongness.

I did a quick review of the few motorcycles currently made that are even remotely related to what we used to call ‘a standard motorcycle’.

I didn’t really want to put Finn on a smaller motorcycle, given his maturing skills as a rider — so the new generation 300s and 400s were non-starters. Fully faired sportbikes, four cylinders, things called ‘Ninja’ and cruisers were out. What one had left were about 5 bikes with displacements between 500 and 800 ccs., and the Honda CB500F was the most versatile, most comfortable, and like a lot of past Hondas, had been so perfectly useful that nobody bought them.

Plus, It’s a Honda.

I probably neglected to mention it was also the least expensive.

If I lived in LA, where coolth apparently has more impact on what people buy to ride, I could buy a leftover 2015 model of these bikes for around $3,800 which is crazy short money for a two cylinder, double overhead cam, water cooled, fuel injected, highway capable modern motorcycle.

In less cool Jefferson, though, there are still leftovers that can be had, and the best such deal I was able to find was at Pete’s Cycle in Baltimore, which had been my dealer when I first started riding my first motorcycle, my CB750K1.

After a phone call or two, I put a deposit on the CB.

It’s a good-looking motorcycle — matt black paint with silver tank shrouds and tailsection. There’s a good looking set of twin silver stripes around the top of the tank, a nice racetrack spec fuel filler, and bright blue anodized fork caps with preload adjusters decorating the bike’s cockpit.

CB

A unsplatted Finn is worth immeasurably more than $4,699, plus freight, assembly, title, taxes and tags.

Finn’s 20th birthday is on Thanksgiving. Apparently he will be celebrating early, and for sometime thereafter.

 

***

 

Postscript:

Just got back from Baltimore with the bike – A lovely, cold, rainy 65 miles home.

Despite that, I don’t think Finn is going to stop grinning for some time.

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Great Grandson of the Black Bomber

 

 

Shaky

I spent today making another tool laden Blast reassembly run from Jefferson to College Park.

A few days ago, Finn calls me up on the phone and says “My Bike is Shaky.”

“It’s making a jingling sound, and seems to be vibrating a lot.”

Now for a Buell Blast operator to say the bike is vibrating a lot is not news, but if it is vibrating more than it normally does, this is a concern.

I tell Finn I’ll call him back.

I do a few web searches. I have come to love the members of the Buell Blast enthusiasts online community, who have already seen every possible failure this simple machine can have.

Some of them more than once.

I call Finn back and then tell him to send me pictures of “That Big Rubber donut underneath the steering head.” He sends me this.

Holes with Nothing In Them

 

Strangely, it’s the isolator — the rubber torus in the middle of the mount — that is known to fail — the rubber tears. This isolator, though, appears to be fine.

Notice on the near side, where there is a hole in which should be an isolator mount bolt. Note that there is not one.

Then please notice on the other side, where there should be another one. There is one there, but its orientation indicates it is no longer connected to that to which it should be connected.

Finn is on campus… he’s calling me from the Architecture Studio.

He’s been riding like that for 2 or 3 days.

I told him to ride it to his place – 3 miles – really gently, and text me when he got home.  He made it.

A few days later I made the run down to look at it first hand. Turned out the Blast had completely spat out its front motormount. There is very little reason why this motor did not fall out. It looked like the wishbone that the cylinder head mounts to got hung up on the horn arm mount bolt as it was headed downward and that snag was sufficient to keep the engine in the motorcycle. Curiouser, the ignition grounds through that unconnected motormount bolt so I don’t know why it was still running.

Getting on the phone looking for this obviously critically stressed hardware did not yield joy. HD parts support is starting to thin out for the Buells. I don’t know whether Harley’s commitment for Buell parts support has just ended, or will end soon, but increasingly the parts are held by a third party contractor, and not HD themselves. The cost has increased accordingly. Getting OEM hardware was challenging.

Challenging, but not impossible.

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5 Buell OEM Parts Bags – 40 Bucks

Today I loaded by my LT with a service stand, a floor jack, a tool box, a few ratchet strap sets, a hunka wood and a service light.

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Rolling Motorcycle Service Shop – Not easy to transport a swingarm stand

I rode back down to the Garage at Finn’s place. After wrapping a strap around the motor, and using that and the jack to cajole it back into position, we were able to get the front engine isolator mount set back right. A few dozen dollars, some new bolts, standoffs, nylock nuts and Blue Locktite got everything that needed to be attached to each other attached to each other.

All of a sudden that bike seems way more of a piece and is seems to be delivering way more power. When I was road testing it, it spun its back wheel in the fat part of second gear, coming out of a traffic circle. It’s never done that before.

Finn thinks the motormount had been failing for quite some time – that one bolt had been gone for a while. He said he kept hearing ‘a jingle’. We found the reinforcing plates and one of the nuts captured in the frame when we pulled the tank. The jingle is gone now.

My Brand New Uncle Joe is willing to trade me the Blast for a Pacific Coast he has and a few more dollars.

At the risk of screwing bikema completely, I suspect the Pacific Coast would not require multiple mechanical emergency rescue missions.  But if I can’t trade the Blast I really can’t afford another motorcycle. We’ll just have to see how Finn ends up feeling about that.

On my way out of his place, Finn lead me on his Blast through Greenbelt Park – It’s US Department of the Interior-managed park that’s about 2 miles away from his place, and in the middle of a very densely developed urban area about 10 miles from Capitol Hill.

One right turn off the highway and its like you’re in one of the Great Western National Parks – deep forest, log buildings, all the Civilian Conservation Corps-built log guardrails.

We ran into a small herd of very young deer coming out of the second corner.

Amazing.

Greenbelt Park has about 3-4 miles of winding park road that is just perfect if you have a fine running 500 single.

I tailed him around before heading back home.  He looked great out there.

Cutting good lines and having some fun. He’s got skills.

I had a lovely ride home, stretching the LT out coming back across Howard and Frederick counties in the late afternoon sunshine.

For a day that started with a broken bike and dirty hands, it was a very good day.

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.