… and Dirt Under The Fingernails

Having one motorcycle away in someone else’s shop and another one in grimy bits all over the shop floor is just mentally destabilizing enough for me to render me certifiably insane.

Now under normal circumstances, I probably hover just underneath the threshold of being certifiable — think of it as ‘unofficially and tending towards insane’ — but having two of my three motorcycles rendered simultaneously non-functional is just enough to push the mental tach needle into the red zone.

These little technical challenges find me nervously and compulsively surfing motorcycle parts sites and Ebay, making useless trips into the garage to look at the patient and then return to the office shaking my head, and pulling out my old Clymer manual — which is now essentially an unbound collection of formerly bound pages — to check my memory of long mastered clearances and torque values.

Until all of my alloy mistresses are back together and returned to function, my sleep is fitful and hard to come by — serenity is nowhere to be found.

 

***

 

After more than a few days of waiting for George Mangicaro’s phone call, the phone finally rang. The next day Sweet Doris from Baltimore and I hopped in our Ford and rolled down the 60 plus miles of country road between us and George’s shop, Gridlock Motors.

Upon arrival at the shop, Darkside was sitting outside, minus the lower fairings I’d removed to get them out of the way before my abortive attempt at repairing the broken exhaust stud.

At the shop counter, George produced the other, more troublesome bit of the stud that had proved too much for my skills.

A Troublesome Stud (or what’s left of it)

“Yeah, this really turned into a pain to get out of there — we resorted to a Dremel mini-grinder to get the broken EZ-out broken up, and then had to use heat and drill clear through the other side of the stud to get enough purchase to remove it. You’d have never been able to get it out of there – it was welded in place and chewed up the threads coming out. I ended up having to Dremel away a bit of the bolt hole shoulder, and then put in a TimeSert thread repair insert — it will be plenty strong.

By the way — how long has your rear main seal been leaking?”

“Since 2011. Once I saw moisture show up at the back edge of the bell housing, I drilled the drain hole in the bottom of the case. I’ve never had a lick of problem with it since.”

“That’s funny. I’ll tell customers once they start leaking, they might get ten minutes out of it, and they might get ten years. Once I saw the drain hole, I wondered if I’d worked on this bike before – I didn’t think anyone else knew that trick.”

“All the older BMWs had an opening at the bottom of the bell housing to let any leaked oil escape. They didn’t really change the design of the rear main but they left out the drain. I just put back what they left out.”

George’s bill was more than reasonable – a little over 4 hours labor to remove and replace the exhaust system, remove and repair the failed stud, and to install the other seven studs and the new oxygen sensor I’d supplied. The parts bill for eight new style studs, new style stud nuts and the copper exhaust seals was less than $50.

“You know,” George told me, “it probably wasn’t your fault, pushing a cold engine too hard, that this stud failed. Notice that the new stud lengths are shorter than the original parts, and that the nuts are also smaller and lighter. BMW’s computer modelling software found that the old type longer studs and heavier bolts – would actually oscillate at high rpms. If it went on for long enough, eventually that oscillation would snap the studs in half, and that’s what happened to yours. The new ones will not do that.”

For a guy that had been feeling more than a little embarrassed, along with a few hundred bucks poorer, I felt a little better knowing that.

I pulled my ‘Stich, elkskin gauntlets and Shoei on, threw a leg over Darkside and chased Sweet D, who had left after dropping me off, back north towards Jefferson.

 

***

 

Back out on US15, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the new Denso oxygen sensor had made a noticeable difference in both operating smoothness and throttle response. I was fairly gentle and measured in taking the bike through warm up — especially given the new thread repair. My experience with this bike is that the entire driveline doesn’t really reach full thermal equilibrium — with motor oil, gearbox oil, coolant and final drive oils at constant temperature – for nearly 100 miles. Traffic conditions, on a mid-afternoon in Faquier and Loudoun counties of Virginia, on a workday, aren’t really amenable to any kind of elevated pace anyway, so I tried to focus on maintaining some buffer from surrounding traffic, and just keeping things smooth and unstressed.

About 40 miles out of Opal, a few miles north of Haymarket and I-66, though, I got a look around the two tractor-trailer units I’d fallen in behind and saw broken yellow lines in my lane and at least 3/4th of a mile of open highway.

Failing to succumb to temptation has never been a problem I have.

Darkside had been loafing along at about 3400 rpm in fourth gear — I thumbed the turn signal, rolled the throttle wide open, pushed on the right grip and hit the passing beam switch twice. In less than a second, I was clear of the first tractor-trailer, and bathed in the Flying Brick’s signature intake shriek which was rising in intensity as the torque and acceleration continued to rise. I stayed in the throttle through the next second which saw me clearing the second truck. When the cab was a safe enough distance behind I gently began giving back some throttle and initiated a smooth roll back into my lane. As I shifted up into top gear I checked the speedo, which showed a speed well over the ton and a rate of acceleration that was only now gradually slowing. By my math a 55-110 split in about 3 seconds flat.

‘Sedate touring motorcycle’ my fuzzy Irish-Arab ass. Does anyone wonder why I love this motorcycle?

 

***

 

Back at the shop, I dropped both the motor oil and gearbox oil from their cases. Reviews of my maintenance logs showed that, as a result of time spent on the teardrop construction project  and the parade of OEM test bikes last year, that I’d only put a paltry 1500 miles on Darkside over more than 16 months since the last oil change. My logs showed motor oil that had aged out rather than failed on mileage.

My shame knows no bounds.

I completed the oil and gearbox service — changing the gearbox to a Valvoline 75-90 SynPower – and spent a few minutes replacing the lower fairings and bellypan.

During the road test the gearbox was shifting much better than the aged out conventional gear oil had permitted – shifts were faster, more positive.

I suspect that my near term working life will require me to be a great deal more mobile than my prior gig, which placed a premium on chaining me to my home office desk. At 19 years old and 95,000 miles on the clocks, this Flying Brick is ready to take me absolutely anywhere.

 

***

 

Now we were two up, one to go.

My replacement seal for the leaking ignition cam and the points, seal puller and replacement allen head hardware had arrived, so it was time to dive back in to getting the /5 back together.

I set up out in the garage and discovered the seal that had failed was actually loose in the seal bore – poking at it tentatively with one of my dental picks had it rocking visibly. Heat and time, it seems, had caused the material to shrink to the point where it was no longer effective. Even without heating the cases, the new Lisle Seal puller had the old seal in my hand in a flash.

When I went to clean up the points plate in preparation to reinstall it, though, it quickly became clear I had another problem.

My two airhead BMWs run a weirdo ignition setup that was a transitional technology between points and a full electronic ignition — the Dyna Ignition Booster. The Dyna setup is almost identical to their aftermarket electronic ignition except for one small detail. Where the full electronic units use a Hall Effect sensor to trigger the spark, the Boosters use the original points to trigger it. These units — which were common when these bikes weren’t museum pieces — have two benefits. The first is that the Hall Effect sensors are the most failure prone component of their electronic systems. The second is that in the event of a failure, the bike can easily be returned to stock points operation with the swap of two wires. Between my two airheads, these systems have provided hot, reliable spark for over 200,000 miles.

The negative, is there is one, is that some of the oddball characteristics of the stock points systems are also retained – such as the mechanical advance unit and the points timing plate. And with the timing plate in my hand, it was clear that this one was no longer serviceable in its current condition. BWM had, since dinosaurs ruled the earth, placed a small felt pad on a steel spring on the timing plate whose job it was to manage the delivery of an appropriate amount of ignition cam grease to the ignition cam. This one, it seems, had shuffled off its mortal coil. The spring was still there, but the business end of the felt pad was nowhere to be seen.

We Don’t Need No Steenking Ignition Cam Lubrication Felt…Oh, Wait, we do, actually.

And of course, brief research finds that no dealer or aftermarket supplier, US or European can supply either a complete points plate or the felt wiper. The Studs on Adventure Rider have, of course, found sources for just the raw felt for industrial applications, like knitting machines, and cut some to fit and riveted in place. The wrong felt though, at 6000 rpm, could do quite a bit of damage, so that wasn’t my first choice. I checked eBay, but the few available were either mad spendy — I am unemployed, remember — or in just as bad shape as the one I had.

The wipers for the older /2s are, of course, still available, so I spent a few hours trading e-mails with the estimable Craig Vechorik at Bench Mark Works – a Vintage BMW supply and restoration specialist – who pulled and measured one for me, but it was too wide to fit without further modification — in stock form it would foul the mechanical advance unit in the /5.

At the point where my anxiety was starting to creep up, fellow sufferer Al Browne took another look at eBay, and found a bike breaker in Wisconsin who had literally just listed one. It looked like it had only been on the road for 10-20,000 miles, tops, and was reasonably priced.

Thanks Al.

I jumped at it.

Three days later, the postman showed up, and I was back in the shop.

I cleaned up the new plate, greased up the felt, and reassembled the ignition system. I gapped the points — which, I gotta say, is a lot harder to see at my current state of chronological giftedness than it was as a 25 year old pup — and went to time the engine.

My first shot was nowhere close. Closing the gap from the .016 inch I had initially selected to a middle of spec .014 retarded things to closer to spec but the engine was still too far advanced. Closing down to .013 had me 2-3 degrees overadvanced but the timing plate was out of adjustment range – I couldn’t retard the timing any further. This isn’t an unknown problem – the original German-made Bosch points are NLA. The best repros are made by a German company named Noris, and their rubbing blocks are known to be a few fractions of a millimeter too large, which causes the timing to be too advanced.

After a suitable ThinkThinkThinkPooh, I pulled the plate and points back out of the bike and chucked it up in the vice on my workbench. I grabbed my cheap Dremel knock-off and the smallest diamond abrasive point, and went after the two slots in the plate which permit timing adjustment. Using this micro-grinder, I lengthened the timing slots from 4mm to roughly 5.5 mm, and then cleaned the parts off and reinstalled them. Upon restarting the bike, the timing was bang on.

(Break arm patting self on back)

I disconnected the battery negative lead, replaced the front engine cover, and torqued the cover fasteners, tightened the bronze tank retaining wingnuts, made sure the fuel lines were securely installed, and then reconnected the battery.

I trolled the bike around the block to warm it up, but the funky behavior on trailing throttle was still present, so I grabbed a 10mm box end wrench, my favorite Husky carbon steel miniature flat blade screwdriver, and prepared to perform the time-honored airhead carb synchronization ritual.

I loosened the throttle cable locknuts, and backed them off until there was freeplay at both ends. Then I started the bike and adjusted the carb butterfly stops until we had some semblance of an even idle. Then I lay down on the ground and engaged the idle air mixture screws, which I first closed, and then opened to about 1/2 turn. As I cleared 1/2 turn, the idle speed rose dramatically, so I had to back off the idle stop screw and then take another pass at the mixture screw. Clearly, for some reason I can’t fathom, the air mixture settings must have been way, way off. After 2-3 iterative passes on both Bings, I finally located the optimum air mixture setting and was able to fine tune the idle stop screws.

I gave the bike throttle from idle a few times – pickup was smooth and even. Letting go of the throttle I stood there and wondered at a perfect Putt-Putt-Putt-Putt-Putt 1000 rpm idle. I turned the bike off and locked the cable adjuster nuts down.

You have to love a motorcycle that can be tuned entirely by ear with a small flatblade screwdriver.

I went inside to grab my gear, leathered up and headed for Poffenberger Road.

 

***

 

Poffenberger Road is one of The Valley’s most notable unpaved roads, and home to several of the founding members of our ‘Friends of Rural Roads’ – http://www.ruralroadsfrederickmd.org/. Poffenberger follows Catoctin Creek for several miles and is the fastest way to get back to our slower history here in Frederick County. Ask why my /5 wears semi-knobby tires and Poffenberger Road is why. If my family must leave this place some day, this road is one of the few things I will absolutely miss.

Upon turning onto Poffenberger, it was clear that the county road crew had just been here for their spring visit — the road had a fresh layer of crushed limestone that had just been graded. The Flat Track racers that come to the Frederick Fairgrounds every Fourth of July for the Barbara Fritchie Classic would likely kill for a soft, tractable racing surface exactly like this.

This perfect dirt surface is the pass/fail test for carb sync on this big twin. Having started life as a 750cc engine, its 900cc cylinder barrels, combined with the small valves of the original 750cc heads, make for a low rpm-biased motor that is happiest in the dirt. I built this bike to be a true scrambler before ‘Scrambling’ was a thing.

Today, post screwdriver alchemy, all is right with this motorcycle and the world. Power is stong and even right off the bottom, and at 4000 rpm the engine is as smooth as its 4 cylinder cousin. I can pick my slides with the throttle, and back into corners off the gas. I run out of dirt – first on Poffenberger, then on Harley and Bennie’s Hill – long before I run out of desire to ride.

 

***

 

So now, there are three motorcycles in the garage, and three that are ready to ride anywhere. Many other things in my life might be presently out of balance, but I can take some small solace, satisfaction and fulfillment in my ability to take tools in hand and render machinery fully and properly operational (with certain previously noted exceptions).

If, in future, though, you happen to overhear me planning to take a year off from maintaining my machinery to pursue some other enthusiasm, please smack me about a bit until I recall the conservation of wrenching, and that there is inevitably a reconciliation that involves the completion of all the routine work that one incorrectly thought you had put off.

Sure, there are some small things that remain to be done. Both airheads need their gearbox oil changed but on naked or almost naked motorcycles, that operation is about a 20 minute job that involves the removal and replacement of two bolts. And after the little improvisation with elongating the adjustment slots on the /5’s timing plate, I think that making the same modification on the S’s timing plate is likely in order — that motorcycle is carrying perhaps 2 degrees of additional advance which helps under wide open throttle, but can be observed as some reduction in low-end torque and smoothness at steady rpms.

None of that is critical though — all of it can wait.

What the spirit needs most right now, though, is the quiet inside my helmet and in my soul that only a few hundred miles of a sunny day ride can provide.

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Dirty Hands

I’ve got old motorcycles, so I fix stuff.

Now I’m lucky (I Think) that these old motorcycles are BMWs, and can sometimes go for long periods of time without requiring much in the way of sacramental ministrations from me.

But no machine made by the hand of man is perfect. BMW Motorcycles certainly are not. So in a garage where the average age of a motorcycle is currently 36 years, stuff is going to break.

 

***

 

I’ve talked about how — after skipping my normal warmup process and pushing my Flying Brick motor too hard and far too fast — I’d come back into the garage to discover two thirds of a newly liberated exhaust manifold stud.

I’d hoped to have an independent BMW mechanic buddy of mine attend to the failure, but his circumstances seemed to keep his attention distracted by a whole passel of other things. He’d gone miles out of his way to convince me I could affect the repair, and after a while, despite my candid mechanics self appraisal, I began to believe I could do it, too. My recent change in economic circumstances made me susceptible to arguments to frugality, as well. So I headed down to my local Harbor Freight, bought a set of reverse drill bits, a set of extractors, and some industrial grade penetrating oil, and set about the fix, man.

Let it be noted, that any story that begins with the phase “So I headed down to my local Harbor Freight…” has already formally set the stage for tragedy.

So noted.

I pulled the lower belly pan from the left side of the LT, and eyeballed the broken stud. It turned out to be the number 1, frontmost cylinder, in the farthest forward position. Of all the studs, it has the best access from directly below, not being fouled by exhaust headers, stands or any other stuff.

I laid down a few layers of heavy mover’s blanket down on the garage floor, got my drill and my LED worklight and dove in.

I got one of Grandpa Wadi’s mechanic’s punches, and nicely centerpunched the broken stud end. I got my reverse drill bits, chucked a fine one up in my Bosch 12v drill — a very precise, small, light tool — and executed a nicely straight hole right into the middle of the stud. I took the next size up, then the one the size after that and enlarged the initial pilot. I then hosed the whole operation down with the penetrating oil, and left the job for the next afternoon. For a bit of delicate work — especially considering the exhaust was still in place – this was going pretty smoothly.

The next day I resoaked the stud in pentetrant, and after leaving it soak for a few, took an extractor, threaded it into my pilot hole, and immediately became that guy — Bang! the extractor tip sheared cleanly off.

Please supply your favorite stong oath of any culture here.

After some deep and embarrassed thought, I called George Mangicaro at his shop – Gridlock Motors – and confessed my manifold sins and inadequacies, and begged for mercy. Or if he couldn’t supply mercy, at least better tooling and equipment to unmess the mess I’d helped make worse.

I pulled the rest of the belly pan so George wouldn’t have to deal with that. While the lower bodywork was stripped, I installed a set of new spark plugs since access was now trivial. Plug readings on the ones that were removed indicated that inside that precious engine, all was operating optimally.

Looks like the textbook illustration marked ‘perfect’ in the tuner’s guide.

I had a nice ride taking the LT down to Warrenton. The Brick’s smoothness and ability to deliver big torque at highway speeds never gets old.

Here’s hoping George’s better preparation, training and skill translate directly into better luck.

 

***

 

The R90S continues just to be a stone. After a recent ride, I finally seized the opportunity to get some clean oil into the old girl after the drowning she took last summer while the big teardrop build was going on. In a good half hour I changed the oil and filter and she ran noticeably quieter and more smoothly with motor oil having lower water content in the cases.

Case closed, your honor.

So with one motorcycle fully ready to ride, I went to the back of the garage and set my sights on the /5. The poor old thing had been running poorly. For a bike that I’ve ridden since the early 80s, and which has 180K or so showing on the clocks, running like crap was something the bike has never really done, so my attention was fully engaged. I assumed that being thoroughly drowned in four or five months of Maryland Monsoon, combined with a little benign neglect, had produced this unfortunate turn of events.

It would turn out to having nothing to do with that at all.

I undid the two bronze wingnuts that secure the rear of the bike’s fuel tank, then popped it off and sat it in the tank saddle fixture I have on my workbench. One has to love a motorcycle that can have its fuel tank removed in under three minutes.

I pulled the left carb intake tube, then the left airbox cover. There was a very old K&N reusable gauze filter installed, which, given my recent education in their usefulness as filters, was removed and unceremoniously binned in the shop trash. I threw out with it two fairly good size mud dauber wasp tubes that had also been in the airbox. I used my LED micro flashlight to look into the right side intake, just to make sure that there were no other oddball foreign objects sitting in the carb’s intake venturi. There’s weren’t, so I dropped a stock air filter in the housing, and buttoned everything on the intake side back up.

I disconnected the battery’s negative lead, and then prepared to pull the front engine cover. With my 3/8 ratchet and allen head bit the three bolts that secure the cover were out promptly, and then I pulled the engine cover free from the rubber seal that secures the tach drive in place. Immediately, it was clear that something was not quite right.

As soon as the cover tilted away from the case, oil began pouring out onto the exhaust crossover. I am, you may have observed, somewhat precise in my use of language. This, it should be noted, was not ‘seeped’, ‘dribbled’ or ‘ran’ — this was ‘poured’. The shop manual and troubleshooting pictures I referenced a short time later will show a little oil collected on the engine case lip under the points plate and wryly observe that ‘this may be evidence of a cam seal failure.’ This wasn’t that. If the theoretical maximum volume of the entire points cavity is, let us say, 5 fluid ounces, there was at least three if not four full fluid ounces of motor oil in the /5’s points housing.

As I scrambled to find something really absorbent, I kept thinking the same thing over and over.

I don’t know how it ran.

Diving In

Since my whole theory of the case had now been thrown summarily out the window, I was on the hunt for more data. I pulled both spark plugs — sure enough, both were dark, sooty, indicating weak spark, which is certainly what they had with the points operating submerged in oil.

I finished the work that could be completed without the new parts I was going to need. I pulled the left cylinder head cover to check the valve clearances. Rocker end gaps were in spec, and both valves were a little tight. I passed on retorqueing the studs — at 180,000 miles and 65,000 miles since a major top end overhaul, I’m pretty confident that this engine is stable and ‘run-in’. I opened up the clearances in both valves, replaced the cover, and then rotated the engine through 360 degrees and attended to the other side. On the right side, rocker endplay was also fine, and only the exhaust valve was out of spec. A quick adjustment, replace the cylinder head cover, and it was Gojo and laptop time.

A little Internet time later I had a line on a new seal, a seal puller, a set of new points, and some allen head screws to replace the flatheads on the timing plate, which after 46 years, are a little worn.

Looking at the timing cover, it was clear that oil had been working its way down onto the front of the engine – there was a fair bit of dirt and oil accreted on the bottom of the cover. There were also six or eight carbonized Marmonated Stink Bugs in the cover. Another mystery – I have no idea how they could have found their way in there.

When the postman finally comes, we’ll remove the points, timing plate, pull and replace the seal and then put new points in and retime. I’ll end up having to completely resynch the carbs, as all of the richarding around I did to try and get the bike to idle will have thrown things off horribly when there’s good spark and airflow again.

Given how far this old motorcycle has carried me, setting it right — given how little is required — is the very least I can do. I’ll keep her rolling and ready to ride again for as long as fortune and luck hold out. More than that is a road too far ahead for me to be able to see.

 

Cold

There was a ring of ice fog around the sun.

Those of us that have grown up in snowy climates know what comes next, and if you are a motorcyclist, it isn’t good.

Never mind that it was 31 degrees out. I’d needed a ride since Wednesday, and I wasn’t going to let what was going to begin in about an hour keep me from some fresh air and acceleration to clear my head.

I reached into the very small library of very thin excuses for a ride and selected a trip to Frisco’s — one of my favorite artisanal beer sources. I probably needed a drink, too, given conditions, but of the available options, the ride was the more restorative and healthy of the two.

I told Sweet Doris From Baltimore I was going for a ride and would be back in about an hour. I was out the door with my helmet in my hand before there was time for any discussion.

 

***

 

The temperature had fallen to about 23 during the previous overnight — in the garage it was closer to that temperature than to the rising thermometer outside. I’d taken the opportunity to put my K1200LT — which is the best inclement weather motorcycle I know — onto the charger while my morning coffee was brewing. I knew I’d need every cold cranking amp we could muster to wake up the fat girl — who had been spending a lot of time sitting idle while I’d been riding the Royal Enfield test bike — and since I still hadn’t managed to catch up with Mark The Mechanic to repair the exhaust stud that had inexplicably committed suicide.

With my helmet pulled on and my gloves still sitting on the pillion, I turned the key, waited a few seconds for current to flow and stabilize, and then pushed the starter. The engine turned over – very slowly — for three or four compression strokes without firing. It’s at times like this I consider swapping this motorcycle to 10W40 oil year round, in place of the 20W50 I’ve traditionally used. On the second attempt the Flying Brick fired, and came immediately up to a nice steady high idle.

I pulled on the new pair of elkskin gauntlets I’d purchased with my Christmas gift money from Doris’ mom, and pulled the LT off the main stand, backed out of the garage, and headed down the driveway. After a few weeks exclusively riding a 430 pound air-cooled parallel twin, the contrast was a little hard to ignore.

 

***

 

For the most part, we all have to work. Some of us have the supreme luxury of doing something we love, while most of us have to do what we must to take care of our families.

I’ve struggled for years to try to make the jump from the second camp into the first without success – ending up in between with a foot in both camps. I’ve kept my technology and IT services careers paying the bills — mortgages, putting kids through college — while my Motorcycle writing and journalism have kept me going — able to do the draining work of commercial reviews and contract negotiations — it’s a delicate balance designed to keep me centered and alive while I continue to see many a younger man’s number come up from being unable to manage the stress of a loveless business.

Tuesday night, the e-mail account for my job popped up an early morning meeting request that I hadn’t expected.

“Meet Bill,” was the subject line.

“How thoughtful,” I thought. Bill was a new Division General Manager — the biggest of big dogs — and although I had been providing him with detailed opportunity analyses — a pretty high value task, which allowed him to direct our new business development process – we hadn’t actually been introduced or had any direct interaction.

Anticipating a video conference, I cleaned up some of the clutter on my desk, and chose a nice, neat oxford cloth button-down shirt for the morning.

When I dropped into the videoconference at precisely the appointed time the next morning, I was greeted by the face of a blond woman who I did not recognize. She clearly looked highly stressed and uncomfortable.

My personal awareness relay closed with a solid thunk.

Bill dropped into the call a few moments later, calling from a mobile phone with no video capability.

“I am sorry to inform you that your position has been eliminated. Your employment with Big Ass Company, Inc., has been terminated, effective immediately.”

Bill dropped from the call. He had not even addressed me by name. He was doing what he had to that day, and would have to do it several hundred more times before he could call it a day’s work.

I asked a few cursory questions of the HR Droid – not really being able to fully function intellectually given the ice cold shock of the situation. After dropping off the call – having been informed that Corporate IT would remove my system access and wipe my devices as soon as they had been informed of my termination — I had to switch gears fast to compose and send an email to the few co-workers who were my friends — it was a race between locked up brain, frozen fingers, and the guys that would kick off the script which — after nearly 6 years — would simply make me disappear.

 

***

 

Rolling the LT down the road, I had to reacclimate to the bike’s size and weight which was in the range of full double the size of the Royal Enfield I’d been riding for the last few weeks. The bike’s controls – hydraulic clutch and shifter – were stiff from the cold and disuse, and the Ohlins suspension units were almost solid from the viscosity of the nearly frozen damping fluid. I’d need to carefully warm the motorcycle for a while before things would acquire any sense of normal control feel or compliance – I also had to assume that both the engine and gearbox oils would be similarly useless.

After skirting around Jefferson, I rolled onto US 340 East, and kept the application of throttle gentle and the revs firmly in the middle as the LT slowly made progress up the ridgeline and headed out of town. After cresting the ridge – never having changed into top gear – I was all the way back down the other side before the Temp gauge hit the point where the thermostat finally opened, indicating the first stage of warm up had finally been achieved. I finally rolled up into top gear and gently accelerated the bike up into its cruise point at 3900 rpm and 82 mph indicated. Some real heat was finally coming into the heated grips, and the air coming into my helmet through the cracked visor was fresh and bracing — getting some fresh air in my lungs and some bracing delivered to my brain was the only close to sane reason for being out here on a grey, overcast sub-freezing day.

I exited 340 West at Mount Zion Road – which cuts across the South County on a wonderfully technical, twisty route that follows Ballenger Creek up towards Frederick. There is a pair of banked, decreasing radius corners that climbs away from the creek, and by the exit of the second one the shocks were working and it was clear why this motorcycle has been one I knew I could ride almost anywhere — the Telelever might not be BMW’s most modern piece of kit, but after three or four easy, precise transitions from left lean to to right lean it clearly works well enough for the on-road needs of most riders.

I did my stop at Frisco’s, where I took on some Victory Sour Monkey Sour Belgian Triple Ale and some Saranac S’more Porter. I’ll admit that I occasionally indulge in some Off Center beer styles, but looked at objectively, this had to be the oddest combination of brews I have ever left any store with. I threw a few polishing towels I had in the top case over the bottle tops, and then closed and latched the case, and headed back for the road.

My check of the weather radar before leaving showed I perhaps had about an hour and a half before the storm was scheduled to arrive, so I plotted an inefficient route home to make the most of the opportunity I had availble. With the engine and transmission finally warmed, I could now really open the throttle to enjoy what I came here for.

Rolling down New Design Road towards the south end of the county and the Potomac river, I was able to sustain the fat stuff towards the top of 4th gear – spinning at about 4200 rpm and about 70 mph. Despite its relatively advanced age – 19 years old and just under 100,000 miles – the bike felt solid and assured with the lovely intake roar taking me back to how Darkside was initially named.

At the river, I picked up Maryland 28 West and cut for Point of Rocks. 28 rolls over hills and farm fields in a lovely chase that give one plenty of opportunities to use the sides of one’s tires. From 28 I picked up US 15 North, where I quickly accelerated to cruise until the Point of Rocks traffic circle came up. Fortunately, traffic was clear so I dropped the Big Girl onto her left side, carved around the circle and headed up the big grade on MD 464.

464 is a straight, clear climb with good sightlines, and except for the extremely occasional wandering black bear is as close to devoid of hazards as any road in Maryland. I assumed a modest forward lean and gentle tuck, lowered the windshield to just below my sightline, and focused on my technique as we shrieked up the big grade — taking each gear out to around 7000 of the 8500 available, preloading the shifter, feathering the clutch and engaging the next gear cleanly with its characteristic BMW ‘Thonk!’.

By the time I’d cleared the top of the grade and engaged top gear – as we were headed back down towards the intersection with Lander Road – I was grinning in my helmet, mind cleared, spirit elevated.

If there was something bothering me when I left, I’ll be darned if I can remember what it was.

img_20190113_174248151

 

Clunk

Shamieh’s Shop — after the completion of the Teardrop Camper V 2.0 Build — has slowly been returning to normal.

Tools have been re-organized and put away. Spare lumber, plywood, aluminum trim and other leftover materials have been organized, stored or scrapped. After the upcoming ‘festival of organizing fasteners’, I even hope to someday see the top of my workbench again.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Seriously, though, with all three resident motorcycles and Teardrop V 1.0 back inside, there is a certain serenity that has returned to the ‘Adult-Cave’.

Or there was, until just after a high-speed K-Bike run to the drugstore that I recently undertook on behalf of a sick family member.  This type of duty is seldom anything but stressful, but on a 76 degree sunny day, with about 20 miles of mixed divided highway and rural backroad to run, and pressure on to make it quick, my K1200LT, which has been sadly neglected of late, seemed like the perfect hammer for this nail.

And nail it I did — after taking the mile or so between my shop and the highway to gently get some heat into the motor — I rolled the Big Girl onto US 340 East and rolled each gear deliberately out until we hit the top of Dynamometer Hill at peak torque at the top of fourth gear pulling somewhere toward the ton.

I returned medicine to The Afflicted in record time, and the Process seemed to have been therapeutic for The Courier, as well. I got back, pharmacy bag in hand, with my cobwebs blown out, thoughts clear, and a strong curiosity about why I’d waited so long since the last time I’d had a blast like that.

After determining that the medicines obtained had provided my loved one with the required relief, I went back to the shop for my customary machine walk-around that follows any hard outing.

Sitting under the lower fairing of the K12 was a dark object. It seemed somehow familiar.

Finding One Of These Under Your K-motor Is Never Good

After brief consideration, I knew where I’d seen one of these before. It was an exhaust stud from the K12’s cylinder head — the bolts that held the exhaust headers in place on the lower side of the motor’s left side.

To be more accurate, it was half of an exhaust stud. Not a great feeling, seeing as how the other half of said stud had to be assumed to be broken off inside the head, where it’s removal and replacement were likely to be delicate, unforgiving, and requiring of extreme skill.

This job was not the ideal opportunity for mechanic’s on the job training.

A quick flick of my cel phone – which triggers its built-in LED light — confirmed it was one of studs retaining the Number Two Cylinder’s header pipe.

I really couldn’t shake one thought, though. With all of the other places this bolt could have fallen off, what was the likelihood of it taking its leave at home, in its parking space. More likely, it had come loose on the road, and gotten lodged in the belly pan, only falling to the ground in the Centerstand Jiu-Jitsu.

After a little research, I reached out to Mark Delaney – a factory certified, former dealership mechanic who was now a professional bluegrass musician who now works on motorcycles on the side. If there was ever a man who had the demonstrated skill and sensitive hands required for this job, Mark was that man.

The more I thought about it, the more I suspected he’d have to do. If one stud looked this bad, the rest of them had likely turned to shit as well — Ted Porter’s Law says why fix just one when it’s about the same amount of work to fix all eight. The one piece exhaust system would need to be removed – the fuel injection system’s oxygen sensor screws into the header’s collector. Mine was factory original at 90+ thousand miles… while we were in there, maaaaan….

Who knows where this will lead? Any time one starts breaking into a 20 year old, nearly 100,000 mile motorcycle, surprises are probably the rule, rather than the exception.

So the K12 is down, until I take the ride to drop it off at Mark’s Shop in Odenton.

I do not dig this kind of drama. You might though. Stay tuned.

Getting Off

Writing about motorcycles is rife with occupational hazards.

Apart from the obvious ones involving unplanned vehicle/rider separations, improvisational macadam gymnastics and non-scientific corn sampling missions, there is a far greater danger.

That danger is that one might find that one’s presumably immutable view of the motorcycling universe gets somehow reordered – that some new motorcycle proves so mind-bendingly transformative a riding experience that it somehow devalues everything that came before it.

 

***

 

Physics constantly talks about ‘frame of reference’ — how the context of a problem can completely change the apparent explanation of a phenomena.

In this context, the motorcycles that I’ve ridden in the past provide the frame of reference for any new motorcycle that I’m asked to write about. What their capabilities are, their strengths and weaknesses are, what character the new machine may or may not have, are all defined by my frame of reference.

Whether there is progress — something better than what came before — depends on my experience of that which came before.

In practical terms, I know how dangerous these encounters with the new can be.

The only new motorcycle I’ve ever purchased was the result of a test ride.

I went for a test ride of a much larger motorcycle than I’d previously considered optimal. I frankly fully expected to hate it — to find it floaty, vague, difficult to handle, at essence unresponsive to my direction as the rider.

What I found though was something completely different. Despite the mass of that motorcycle, it was taut, responsive — telling me what was happening at the contact patches — and with a motor that sang ever sweeter the harder it was spun.

I was blazed. I was smitten. I wrote a check for that BMW K1200LT and have ridden that motorcycle almost everywhere for the last 18 years and 150,000 miles.

 

***

 

So for the last several weeks, I’ve had the latest technology, state of the art motorcycle rocketship at my personal disposal.

The mission was simple – flog the spit out of it, drag the pegs, and tell the good people whether or not what I flogged was good.

There are times when it truly sucks to be me. This is one of those times.

What motorcycle is it is not material. You could assume that whatever it was had more cylinders, more displacement, more engineering wizardry, electronic trickery and electromechanical gizmos than you and I have ever seen before.

And you’d be right.

So, for those last several weeks, when the Weather Goddess had not been showing signs of her fundamental and extreme displeasure, I rode the rocketship motorcycle everywhere, opened up my perceptions, modified my riding habits and worked to reach an accommodation — an understanding — of what was supposed to be one of those transformative changes in the motorcycling possible.

I worked to keep an open mind – to embrace the new and the newly possible – and to see if it could change the way I looked at riding.

My time with The Rocketship proved too short. During yet another soaking rain, the next rider rode it off the other night, and I was left trying to figure out if I missed it or not.

 

***

 

Last night it was raining again. It didn’t matter.

All I wanted to do was to ride my own motorcycle – my K12000LT – and to take a measure of whether the frame of reference had changed, or whether riding truth was as it had always been.

Might Be a Tad Zaftig, But You Should See Her Dance

Darkside was a little snippy after having been left in the rain and on her sidestand for more than two weeks. K-Bikes are known to burn oil and smoke on start up — although frankly mine has never sat still long enough for this to occur.

She smoked a little this time, though.

I tiptoed down the driveway, trying to recalibrate to the LT’s different CG and roll moment, and to try get some heat into the engine, which was a little reticent after having sat and been drowned so long.

By the time we made it out to Jefferson Pike, things had improved a bit … it reminded me of myself trying to get off the couch after having sat just a tad too long. As I sat at the corner, an old rusty pickup and a Jeep CJ went by… vehicles not exactly known for being in one heck of a hurry… it was OK, I guess… it would give me a chance to warm things up and come back to my moto-self.

The three of us wandered down the grade on MD-180 — it might have been relaxed, it might have been leisurely. As centered and aware as I endeavor to be, it was really beginning to piss me off.

As we went past the Brookside Inn, and round the corner that leads into the huge grade that climbs back away from Catoctin Creek, both four wheelers drifted to the right, into the thoughtfully provided climbing lane and actually provided an opening for me to move by.

It was probably a little early — not being really warmed yet — but if there was ever a time I didn’t want to loaf behind these guys, this was it.

I gave my customary turn signal, two flashes of the passing beam, and smoothly rolled the throttle – still a tad stiff – wide open.

A single second can blow your mind and last forever.

As the tach cleared 4500 rpm, the four valve ‘Flying Brick’ hit its power step — that point where the engine’s breathing efficiency goes past two valve breathing into something far far beyond — and everything seemed to slow way down as it was really speeding up. I could feel the suspension rising gently — could clearly feel both wheels working, what was happening at both contact patches. With my K12’s Bimota-designed frame and the Ohlins suspension units (that I’d been lucky to score at a fraction of their recommended price) my bike felt alive, communicating.

I gave the gentlest push on the inside bar, moved a little wide in my lane, and was instantly by myself, snapping an upshift into third, and cresting the hill in a way that suggested that Jump to Hyperspace that had named this motorcycle and all its kin so many years ago.

I knew in that fraction of that second I didn’t miss the newest rocketship one little bit.

 

***

 

In truth, I don’t know whether this is more of a relief or a disappointment.

My youngest son Finn has a year left at The University, and economic reality dictates that I’m not likely to spend money on a new motorcycle for at least that time. But I’ve looked ahead 20 years in the engineering continuum, and not seen any quantum increase in the quality of chassis and suspension, or in the delivery of power, that would overwhelm my sense of fiscal responsibility and have me asking to whom I might write a check.

I’ve seen multiple motorcycles with a lot of LED screens – with systems to guide, to entertain, to communicate, automation of various functions formerly assumed to be the realm of the rider, and to change the power and traction control profiles of the motorcycle they live in. But I’ve yet to experience anything that takes my mind off that intake shriek when the Brick is making its big power, the view over that analog tach and speedo, and the feeling of the radials tracking the pavement and telling their story about every grain of asphalt.

While I’m alive, I can always learn, and I can always change.

I’d really love to experience another new motorcycle that just completely blew me away.

Anyone have the phone number in Birmingham for Motus? I feel like living dangerously.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Rides, Little Rides

Sometimes I just have to go for a ride.

There are as many possible reasons as there are sands on the beach, but the result is always the same.

It’s just me in my helmet, with the sound of the air rushing round it, unplugged, off-grid, in that place where I can make some time to think.

A few years back, I’d exhibited what for me was an uncharacteristic tight little cluster of significant errors in judgement.

I’d made a righteous hash of multiple areas in my life all at once. I needed some time with myself to “think-think-think-pooh” back to some sane and well-adjusted place.

I needed to go for a little ride.

I loaded some camping gear onto a seat bag on my LT, arranged for some time off from work, and went stands up and rolled west.

The first place I even considered stopping was on the north end of the Mackinac Bridge, in the Village of Saint Ignace.

With choppy bright blue waters all around, and pine forests behind me up the hill, I set my tent and contemplated the view of my mistakes stuck back on the water’s other side.

The next day saw Sault Ste Marie, and Thunder Bay, Ontario, after endless switchback and hillcrest runs over Lake Superior bays, and nearly a hundred miles of riding my LT standing up on dirt, where the Ontario Department of Highways had seen fit to entirely remove the TransCanada Highway for maintenance – “We only got about 5 weeks a year to do repairs, eh?”.

The next day took me in morning mist through Grand Portage and Grand Marais and as sunshine broke into Duluth, smelling intensely of freshly toasted grains. By the time I pitched my tent again in Escanaba – next to an R90S rider named Kennedy – I’d figured some stuff out, and was spiritually ready to turn my wheels for home.

Sometime all it takes is a little ride to figure things out, and arrive at that non-spatial location of illumination.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking about a big ride.

Big rides are more than merely rides – they’re milestones, they’re symbols, they are accomplishments. Big rides are confirmations of the possible, voyages that nourish and sustain the soul.

It’s been a couple of years since a Big Ride, and my Big Ride batteries are showing red, and in need of a charge.

I’ve ridden from Maryland to the Southwestern Deserts and back, but time and opportunity to dip my boots in the Pacific have thus far eluded me.

I have a long-lost cousin I have never met – a fellow obsessive and talented motorcyclist – a professional racer both on and off the road – that lives in San Diego. I met Oliver in the comments section of BikeExif.com. Our similar surname set off alarm bells, and after lengthy e-mail exchanges it became clear our Orthodox Christian families had been forced to flee from the same Syrian Village by the rampaging Ottomans in the late 1800s.

We share our love of the Iron Steed though we have never met.

My newest client at work is The City of San Diego. I have been told to expect to have to spend some time with them if our work with them moves forward. A few days with The City with a few days advance notice is all it would take to have my long ride batteries recharged for years.

With a willing spirit, the right motorcycle, and a body that is still able, it’s three days at speed from Ocean City to Del Coronado.

It’s a long ride that would be one for the ages. Another chance to cross the green of Tennessee, to ride the Mountains of New Mexico and Southern Arizona… to blaze through Roswell and White Sands. The Southern Transcontinental routes have much to recommend them when compared with the Rolling Wheat Ocean that is crossing Kansas.

It’s too soon to begin rejoicing, as lots of moving parts have yet to align, but this would be the biggest of big rides – a tale to tell the kids and their kids, should they have any.

Not all ‘little rides’ are little, not all ‘Big Rides’ are big, though – sometimes a motorcycle ride is just a ride.

The weather here in Central Maryland has been unpredictable and unseasonable lately. Where in mid-August we’d normally be sweltering in high heat and higher humidity, we’ve had long strings of cool and rainy weather punctuated by little breaks of springlike dry cool days and cooler nights. In what are supposed to be August’s Dog Days, there isn’t so much as a puppy anywhere in sight.

During one of my frequent trips to dwell in admiration of the Garage Art Collection, I found myself gazing wordlessly at my oldest motorcycle, my 1973 R75/5. There is something about the Toaster Tank that makes it appear older than its actual 43 years. Between the fork gaiters, the nacelle headlamp with its built-in combined instrument, the simple, unlabeled handlebar switches, and the zeppelin-shaped mufflers, it suggests BMW designers that could not decide which 20th Century Decade they were designing for – in what was then the most modern design they had ever produced, there were obvious design references to motorcycles they had built in the 1930s.

I’d been busy lately with other things, and other motorcycles, but that day I needed to ride that motorcycle – which I’ve owned for over 30 years – even more than it needed to be ridden.

Cutting up Mt. Phillip Road towards the west side of Frederick, the oldest of my Alloy Girlfriends was light of foot and dancing divinely. Threading the combinations of left-right corners and sharp changes in grades and topography, I surfed the big smooth waves of torque produced by the bored-out, small valve motor. I was bathed in the sunlight, the cool breeze through my ventilated leathers, and in echoes of the engine’s machine gun report coming back from the hillsides above the road. Front and back wheels moved on the long throw suspension, soaking up the road’s manifold irregularities with none of it affecting the frame or the rider. My overwhelming impression was of an almost meditative lack of conscious riding decisions – after so many miles together this old motorcycle is like an extension of my own body – the bike simply does what my mind requests without action, translation or boundaries between us.

You would be lucky to have with your lover what I have with this motorcycle.

That afternoon had many more sunny miles through Gambrill, back down Maryland 17 to Burkettsville, and through the bottoms back home.

Some motorcycle grace takes a lap of an inland sea, or the crossing of a continent. Sometimes though, that illumination, that joy can be achieved in a simple half hour on a sunny afternoon.

 

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This piece originally appeared in the September/October 2017 Issue of Motorcycle Times.