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.

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Yin Yang

There is no light without the darkness.

And there is no darkness without the light.

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

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

 

***

 

I’d had this plan.

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

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

Which of course, is why it was doomed.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

And that was it.

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

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

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

“I won’t sweat it,” I thought.

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

 

***

 

Only it wasn’t.

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

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

Then weird took the whole thing to the next level.

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

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

From my house to Charlotte is about 450 highway miles.

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

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

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

Which of course it wasn’t.

 

***

 

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

Exactly Jack.

So I began to get creative.

Rolling Physics Problem has a number one fan.

#1 Fan’s name is Bud.

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

Hi Bud!

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

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

So I tested the theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now all I had to do was get there.

 

***

 

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

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

 

***

 

Three days out, Bud From LA pulled out.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

Pretty good.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

Which would be almost completely incorrect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

So it was fair skies, and rising temperatures.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

And a sweet run it was.

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

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

It was more than pretty good.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

…to be continued…

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

 

LTO

How do you quantify something that is completely and utterly subjective?

It’s admittedly a fool’s errand.

Fool? Errand?

So this seems like the perfect setup, eh?

I’ll get my helmet.

 

***

 

I’ve been working my way back from an unplanned riding layoff.

And since life’s little unpleasant surprises prefer to play tag team, that experience was superimposed on one of those character revealing all-out maximum effort sprints in my worklife that make the other parts of ones life go all blurry until it’s over.

On Wednesday, my work team of 9 mothers delivered their one month baby. On Thursday, my workplace seemed preternaturally quiet. The mental image I had was more than a few people coming to face down on a carpet somewhere, panting shallowly, and finding the silence — and unaccustomed absence of ringing phones, multiple computer inbound instant message and e-mail klaxons, and mobile phone Hmmmmmmmmnnnn Hmmmmmmmmmnnnn vibrations — strangely disconcerting.

Later in the afternoon, with a clear calendar, and a life that had been on hold for several weeks, I decided to head up to the bank to take of some urgent business. The sun was out, the temperature had finally broken into the 17 minutes of Maryland’s Spring, and my emotional batteries were showing red and in need of a charge. I Vansoned up and headed for the garage.

 

***

 

If I had a truly modern motorcycle, like a Yamaha YZF-R1, the engine control unit’s electronics would have at least a dozen ways of measuring the absolute rush of proper motorcycle operation. On a modern bike, the ECU is integrated with an Inertial Management Unit, which, through a combination of accelerometers, gyroscopes and wheel speed sensors, can model acceleration, deceleration, roll, pitch, yaw, bank angle, wheel spin and whether one or both wheels are off the ground and headed back towards or further away from the pavement. The motorcycle is essentially self aware and self-protective, and will do whatever is necessary to keep overall machine dynamics inside the envelope prescribed by the IMU’s mathematical physics dynamic model. And while the control electronics will occasionally — like a 1000 times a second or so — consult the position of the ride-by-wire throttle to monitor what the rider is requesting, that throttle position sensor is just one of many inputs, and can be considered merely a suggestion, to be ignored if required, rather than the deterministic order that it represents in the motorcycles to which I’ve grown accustomed and enamored.

Thankfully, though, I don’t own a truly modern motorcycle, so the number of operational parameters available to describe the ride is reduced, for all intents and purposes, to one.

The throttle.

If the slides on the Del’Orto PHM 38s are up, we’re accelerating. If the slides are down, we’re slowing down.

Do it right, and it’s as if you’re dancing with angels. Do it wrong, and those selfsame angels will be taking you home.

It’s the most fundamentally analog of systems, and it makes a far simpler way to represent that tightrope walk between that laws of physics and the demands of the rider’s emotion.

 

***

 

Things in my life, generally, have suddenly become a great deal more vivid.

Seems I’d been looking straight at things that I had just not been seeing.

So a sunny day, an R90S, and a ready, receptive soul was a recipe for motorcycle enlightenment.

Running up the Jefferson Pike, I found myself far more deliberate, far more aware and far more prone to use of Large Throttle Openings than my customary riding style employs.

The S, in stock form, is known for its long travel suspension. Mine, modified not for the track or for some museum, has fork gaiters which, while not pretty, do make it more likely that the fork assembly will cheerfully survive tens of thousands of bug and road filth infested miles.

Running the up through the gears was an adventure in big gestures, big movements, and big pieces of metal in motion. Roll the throttle to well open and let the bike pull the gear up through six thousand RPM. As the power comes on, one can see the fork gaiters stretching out as the fork unloads and the front wheel gets light. Preload the shift lever and finger the clutch while simultaneously snapping the throttle closed. In the seam between applications of power the gaiters settle back down as the fork compresses. A firm toe in this gearbox — freshly rebuilt with the updated shift cam — yields a uncharacteristicly solid and deterministic shift when compared with most BMWs of this vintage. After the “Thokk” of engagement reaches my ears, I feather the clutch back in while rolling the throttle open again. In every gear the cycle repeats, with the bike doing its best to keep the front tire skimming the ground.

After a ride like this, it makes perfect sense that I’m wearing out two rear tires for every front I replace. One doesn’t wear out tires that are barely ever on the ground.

 

***

 

A test of the aforementioned YZF-R1 I saw recently did analysis of the data that was provided by the bike’ s IMU and yielded the data that the bike was able to make use of more that 50% throttle application roughly 18% of the time it was in motion.

Absolute power means almost nothing if, like the nuclear deterrent, one can never use it.

Taking the S up the National Pike into Gambrill, in contrast, was an extended meditation on Large Throttle Openings. 67 horsepower might not seem like a lot, but in a world filled with hypersports that knock on the door of 200 horses, they were 67 horsepower all of which I could freely use. Gears could be run all the way out. The intake howl created by the S’s liberally ventilated airbox housing was singing out and playing against the machine gun exhaust report — echoing back off the rock cuts on either side of US 40 — of the boxer running in it’s peak power zone.

This vivid and completely engaging experience encapsulates what I most love about this 42 year old motorcycle.

Nobody, not even me, is disconnected enough to argue that an R90S is an objectively fast motorcycle in 2017’s motorcycle arms race. Forget BMW S1000RRs and Suzuki GSXR1000s. It is likely that a Kawasaki 650 Versys — hardly a manly-man expression of sporting prowess — could wipe it up in a straight line test of acceleration.

While a suspension-enhanced S can hang with or even embarrass a inexpertly piloted modern 600 class Sport bike on a tight or technical enough back road, it isn’t because the motorcycle is objectively fast.

What enamoured me to this motorcycle is not that it is fast, but that it feels fast.

Lots of modern BMWs and lots of other manufacturer’s motorcycles are so refined that they lose any sensation of personality.

The S, in contrast, makes every moment spent with throttle slides rising feel like the fastest thing in the world. One can feel every explosion in the cylinders — they ring the tubular steel frame like hammers ringing on a large bell. The frame squats, the front end rises and the bars go loose in your hands.

There is no electronic minder. The bike clearly needs you, and the overall experience is one of barely contained mechanical brutality where the rider’s skill and ability to read the road ahead is what frankly, is the margin that separates a completely immersive motorcycling life from a short and violent exit from same.

I’ve moved well past my brief look straight onto the eyes of death.

On this green sunny day, working Large Throttle Openings on this old classic motorcycle, I have never felt so alive.

The Greatest Show On Earth

its probably
good for you
to have a brush with death
every once in a while
these white hot flashes
of mortality
serve to clarify the mind

its not
why i ride motorcycles
but riders
accept
that these things happen
sliding tires
you gather up
no one the wiser
how near a thing that was

after surviving
your vision sharpened
everything shining
a new focus
on what counts
learning to ignore
anything that doesn’t propel one forward

the thing about death
is that it just doesn’t manage very well
showing up from random places
at random times
and usually not
while doing the things
conventional thinking
would accept should kill you

so you can ride the wall of death
everynight my friend
you can smoke camels
drink jack
wrangle the big cats like Gunter
or be shot out of a cannon
like The Human Cannonball

none of the things
that should kill you will kill you
there’s way more than a million ways
to be struck or missed by the lightning

i know that you want
gunpowder
explosions
lurid twisting orange fireballs
of exploding hightest gasoline
what you get though
is blue light
a dark spot on your arm
and a silent doctor
with a concerned look
on his face

 

***

 

I’ve got to tell you, I get the worst PMS.

I can tell from that look on your face that you have no freaking idea what I mean.

PMS, or Parked Motorcycle Syndrome, is a debilitating condition. PMS leaves sufferers irritable, depressed, and prone to seemingly impossible extremes of emotional volatility.

And so it is with me, too.

After two days or so, I’m nervous. Jumpy.

I make these inexplicable spasmodic rolling motions with my right hand and wrist.

After about five days, I can be observed sitting rocking in the center of the rug in my den, quietly making little motor noises with my lips and tongue.

After about 7 days, I am reduced to staring out the window, insterspersed with brief spasmodic weeping.

After about ten days, I’m queing up to be fitted for that nicely tailored snug natural canvas sportsjacket with the arms that tie together in the back.

It had been thirteen days since I had ridden a motorcycle.

 

***

 

The fact that my lay up was a result of Doctor’s orders wasn’t making it any easier.

In fact, it was making it particularly harder.

A trip to my Dermatologist to have a bad looking spot on the back of my upper right arm examined had resulted in a nearly immediate return for some outpatient surgery.

As a full-blooded American — which is to say a 50% Irish Catholic, 25% Christian Arab and 25% Polish Jew (although there could be more stuff in there for all I know) — my fair skin is prone to hocking up all sorts of bumps and oddballs. Squamous cells, Basal Cells — a Carcinoma or two.

Considering none of my outside has ever seen the sun-containing world outside an Aerostich suit, this is puzzling, but nonetheless true.

I ought to qualify for some sort of high volume scrape ’em and 4 suture club discount.

All of these things are a tad annoying, but 98.8% harmless.

This wasn’t one of those.

This was why we needed some fast lab work, and a post haste return visit.

After spending 90 minutes making surgery can-we-please-talk-about-something-else-smalltalk with my Doctor which was supposed to be 30, a much bandaged and still more sutured me was toweled off, propped up, and sent home with the instructions “not to lift anything heavy for 4 or 5 days”.

In my slightly stress-goofy state, I remember thinking “Well, I guess that rules my K1200LT right out.”

 

***

 

My first notion that something was amiss came after the local anethetic had worn mostly off, and a nice beer seemed like something that might have therapeutic uses.

I decanted a Nanticoke Nectar, leaned down to enjoy the fresh hop bouquet, and then took the glass into my right hand. Everything was preceeding swimmingly until the glass — moving delightfully in widescreen slow motion — got about 6 inches from my achingly thirsty lips. As the glass got closer and closer, it moved with increasing resistance, running into the new limits of my arm’s flexibility, which apparently contained a great deal less arm than it had this morning.

Friends I’d spoken with about the the diagnosis and precedure had warned me about this. The protocol involves being very conservative, and that translates to removing a fair amount of additional tissue.

I muttered a favorite oath — one I suspected would get a good throttle stretching run over the next three weeks or so — set the glass back on the counter, and resolved to learn to drink left handed.

 

***

 

So there I was, stuck on the couch, comtemplating my own mortality while snared in immobility.

It was pretty dark.

And I was going absolutely nuts.

For the first week or so I was too beat up to even consider escape. If we went out Sweet Doris from Baltimore was behind the wheel.

On or around day 5, I regained enough flexibility that I could split time between drinking left handed and drinking right handed.

Having discovered this, I immediately walked out to the garage, swung a leg over the Slash 5, and assumed the position.

Given that motorcycle’s almost custom fit to my body, it was heartening that I could sit astride the bike comfortably — there was no pain to rest a portion of my weight on my arms.

Then I tried the throttle.

This was going to take a while.

 

***

It wasn’t the last such trip I made to the the garage and to my Toaster Tank.

Progress was slow, but it was progress.

Day 13 after the surgery dawned sunny, cold and windy.

My arm, though, seemed like it could stand to be wound WFO without too much discomfort.

At lunchtime, I went back to the garage, and sat back on the Slash 5. I took a few tentative rolls of the throttle. No klaxons.

I walked over to the garage door, and gently raised it.

I rolled the bike forward off the stand, and then rolled it backwards into the open door, and gingerly placed it back onto the Reynolds Ride-Off stand.

It was go time.

I wandered back inside and gathered up a set of boots, my Duluth Trading Blacktop jacket — notable because of its built in fleece lining and lack of any armor — and a fresh surgical adhesive dressing and some of the prescription antibiotic ointment my doctor had provided.

I went into the studio where Sweet Doris from Baltimore was working a new painting.

“I’m going for a ride, Baby. Could you please put a dressing back on my arm?”

“I don’t think that’s….”

Folks that know me well know that I never get like that.

This one time, I got like that. Sue me.

 

***

 

Out in the driveway, I snapped the collar of my jacket shut and pulled on my gloves. I swung a leg over, opened the left fuel petcock, and pushed in the ignition pin. Having sat for a while, the boxer swung through two or three more compression strokes than was customary before the engine fired. I swing the choke off before it was smart to do so, and had to repeat the drill. Afer 15 seconds or so, the engine was taking throttle, and assumed its steady near-human heartbeat of an idle.

I pushed off down the driveway, toed the gearbox down into first, and banked left up the street.

Motion!

I took the long way around the neighborhood — gently rolling the bike left and right — a baby-step version of the racer’s tire warming manouvre — checking to make sure I could position the bike without running into the lowered limits of my flexibility and strength. Thanks to boxer balance, what little I had was enough.

At The Jefferson Pike, I made the right down towards The Brookside Inn, and deliberately thockked the old girl up through the gears until I shifted into fourth.

With temperature in the low 40s, the sun was shining bright in a clear sky, the wind blowing hard, this old school ride — no windshield, no heated grips, and just a set of elkskin gloves — was letting me experience the day with an unparalleled vividness.

It was bright. It was cold. It was great.

Never has such an old slow motorcycle made me feel so alive.

 

***

 

As much as I didn’t want to overdo it, I didn’t want to stop, either.

After a brief run up The Pike, I made the right up St. Marks Road. St. Marks leads down into The Bottoms — I just wanted to just be alone next to the creek, feeling the wheels working underneath me and being kissed by the broken sunlight coming through the trees. Where the road comes down to Catoctin Creek, it follows the streambed closely, making a series of gentle lefts and rights, with the ancient road surface providing endless contours for the suspension to follow.

After a long time as a wallflower, it felt oh so good to be dancing again.

St. Marks has a medium long straight, and feeling good, I gassed it.

I wasn’t the only one that was feeling good, apparently.

Old boxers love cold dense air, and 50 horsepower never felt so powerful. The Toaster’s sleeper motor — with its big bore kit and small valves — was right in the sweet spot, and it hit with everything it had.

I didn’t need an action cam to know about the smile in my helmet.

At the creek sits an old iron framed one lane bridge. I got up on the pegs and gassed it again — getting just a little air as I left the bridge deck.

Away from the creek St. Marks climbs steeply. The sightlines are restrictive and the road twists, snakelike, as it rises up the hill. I gassed it again and was pleasantly surprised as the front wheel lightened up and lightly skimmed the pavement over 60 or 70 feet.

Slash 5 power wheelies don’t happen very often, but today was clearly a special day.

I might hurt later, but right now that front wheel wasn’t the only thing that got lifted.

 

***

 

Back in the driveway, I remarked that my gear removal speeds had recorded better split times.

Then again, today wasn’t about speed, it was more about simple existance.

My Toaster is clearly a motorcycle that gets used. Its got dirt. And gear oil. And mud. It hasn’t got any ‘pretty’.

Today, though, it was a thing of beauty.

I grabbed my phone out of the phone holster that is built in to my favorite brand of cargo pants to check for messages. I had a voice mail.

“Hmmmmnnnnnnnnnn.”

“Mr. Shamieh? This is Jennie down at Dr. Han’s office. Just wanted you to know that the biopsies and labs came back, and they’re all clean. You have nothing to worry about. Call if you have any questions. ”

Seemed like a pretty good time to reacquaint myself with drinking beer right handed.

Angry Bees

I guess its time to admit that I’ve been living in the past.

It might be an idealized, nostalgic past, but its the past just the same.

I don’t want to generalize too much though, its not the entirety of the past that that I’m living in, its just the motorcycling past.

My newest motorcycle, a K1200 series longitudinally mounted inline 4 — is a 2000 model — it can’t already be 17 years old — which itself is a refinement of a basic design that debuted in 1983.

My Toaster tank /5 BMW — a bike I came by when I got out of college and the bike on which I wooed Sweet Doris from Baltimore — is a 1973 model — 44 years old. If one is honest, the Toaster really represents late 1950s state of the art motorcycle chassis design — Featherbed Knock-off! — as embraced by the conservative German designers after 20 or so years to make sure the basic idea was sound.

Drum brakes.

In defense of the conservative German designers, they are the best street application drum motorcycle brakes I ever used, but.

Drum brakes.

Such a motorcycle is a lot of things, but modern is not one of them.

***

It’s not to say that these old motorcycles are bad motorcycles, because they’re not.

My /5 is narrow, agile, torquey and simple. Hell, it’s still here and running reliably at somewhere indetermanistically north of 170,000 miles.

Indetermanistically because the motorcycle has turned out to be far more reliable than the odometer in its Motometer combined instrument.

But the /5’s two cylinder pushrod motor — originally designed with bushings in its valve rockers — only revs to 6900 rpm, and made barely 50 hp on its best day. It is an elemental motorcycle — but everything happens with a certain deliberateness of pace.

***

Its not like I’ve had no exposure to modern machinery.

I’ve had some seat time on a modern KTM — an 1190 Adventure — that was a real eye opener, and at the same time, was clearly connected with the classic large displacement roadster twins of the past. One had a broad spread of power across the rev band — it was a clearly a road motorcycle, full stop. The refinement of the chassis, suspension, yes, and electronics was the present, but you could still see the motorcycling past from there.

***

 

wp_20170213_08_28_49_pro

 

So there I was, looking at a tachometer face. A face that showed redline to be at 14,000 rpm.

This was going to require at least a little adjustment.

Sitting in my driveway was a 2004 Kawasaki ZZR-600. ZZR was Kawasaki’s Marketing speak for “We used to call this the Ninja but we redesigned a faster bike and still want to keep selling this one”. Arms race and branding aside, the ZZR carried a four cylinder, water cooled, dual overhead cam short stroke motor of vastly oversquare dimensions. Engines like this are meant for the race circuit — to be spun hard and made to howl on the straights.

The ZZR has a steel frame of a hybrid perimeter and beam type, one that is shared by all modern Kawasaki sporting motorcycles. Its an elegant design where the frame rails bulge around and envelop the cylinder head — simultaneously compact and strong. The ZZR has a conventional telescopic cartridge fork, a monoshock rear, substantial Tokico 4 piston brakes, and 17 inch radial tires. The riding position is two clicks shy of the racetrack, but bars are still low, and saddle and footpegs high.

This ZZR is one in which I have a small investment of time and troubleshooting effort.  It belongs to my daughter’s boyfriend, and after a fair amount of effort to return it to good operation and the road, I had never really had the opportunity to fully test the results of my work.

wp_20170109_20_45_37_panorama

When the weather had turned filthy, he had asked if he could store the bike here, so we squeezed it into my garage. The deal was, if I had possession of the bike, I would ride it. It hadn’t really been winterized, and had been sitting there for the better part of a month, when nature served up a freak 65 degree day.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but I’m still here.

***

Pulling on a Vanson racing jacket is somehow both comforting and strangely calming — its as if this leather exoskeleton, which exerts a whole body compressive hug, works like one of those yippy dog calming vests.

At least it works that way for me.

Think of that what you may.

With my helmet and gloves all strapped in place, I swung a leg over the red machine, and settled into the saddle. I spent a few quality moments adjusting the fairing mounted rearview mirrors — which had been folded in for storage — into a position to be hopefully useful. I turned the bike’s bodywork-integrated fuel petcock to its ‘on’ position, turned the ignition on and slid the handlebar mounted choke lever forward.

Upon activating the starter the bike fired immediately. Being impatient, I tried to work the throttle, and gently slid the choke back open, whereupon the bike stalled immediately.

A second try was better — I let the bike run on full choke for 30 or 40 seconds and then slowly dialed the choke off. And then what we has was a cold, lumpy but running idle — given a little more time and a little more heat, everything would be fine.

I pushed the bike off the centerstand, and flinstoned a K turn until I could drift down the driveway. Taking care to locate and remember the new footpeg position, I selected first gear, which occurred way more deterministically than I am accustomed to — it was almost as if the box was designed to use input power to engage the dogs — once the shift was started it kinda went power transmission on you.

I took the long route around my neighborhood — coming to terms with the bike’s low speed handling, behavior on and off the clutch, and braking.

At the intersection of Jefferson Pike, I made the left and headed up towards town, and past that towards Frederick.

***

It was pretty clear right off that my habit of sometime shortshifting a cold engine wasn’t going to work here. While the engine would take throttle at under 4000 rpm, things down there happened pretty slowly — it was going to take some heat, and way more revs to move things forward smartly.

Apart from that, the riding position that appeared ridiculous at first glance actually worked pretty well once in motion.

Although I have to imagine that the sight of me, with my youthful and trim rear end pointing up in the air may not have been the type of thing that is frequently seen in our little village.

I am under no illusions that chicks dig this.

At Jefferson, I had to stop for the light.

When it turned green, I gassed it.

180 heading east out Jefferson is a winding two laner that follows the contour of the ridge that divides Frederick and Jefferson. I ran the ZZR through the gears, shifting conservatively — for this bike — well below the real power, although it should be noted that my shiftpoints were higher than redline on both of my boxer twins.

The sound of this engine was a racetrack fantasy — the sound of a million angry bees — a raucous, metallic shriek in the middle of its rev band. Hard to imagine how many more bees it might have at its 14,000 rpm limits.

On the other side of the ridge I made the left into Mount Zion Road, and the entrance to one of my most cherished bits of twisty Frederick blacktop. If the ZZR 600 was a well-handling motorcycle, we’d know in the next three minutes.

Mount Phillip is the sort of road where only familiarity can let you run it — roadcraft is of little help where corners apex blind off the tops of hills, and crazy elevation changes obscure the road ahead. Top end power is also of limited use as there’s almost nowhere you can use it — this is a handling test, not a speed event. Even the initial right onto Mount Phillip is tricky — the intersection is a 110 degree turn, usually with a little loose stone, that leads into a very steep and immediate rise — too much throttle and too many revs too soon, and hairy wheelies can easily result. Folks that wish to remain rubber side down are advised to move well forward on their motorcycle here.

Coming off the top of the rise, the road makes a textbook racetrack left 90. I entered well outside, and with the revs up at about 7000, engine braked into the entrance, leaned the bike over and rolled the throttle out. For someone still learning the bike, the entrance was sharp, deterministic and bred confidence. The combination of relatively light weight, very centralized mass, and serious structural rigidity made cornering taut, precise and controllable. The riding position, as well, with the rider located far forward, weighting the front wheel, gave perfect leverage and control to work the front end.

The next several corners, another 90 leading into a sharp uphill right, leads to a hairball double apex that leads down off the other side of the hillside. After 4 real corners, and about three really good minutes, I felt as if I’d been riding this motorcycle most of my life.

***

After running the rest of Mount Phillip up to my bank in Frederick, gearing back up in the parking lot there was no question of taking the shortest route home. The only question really was “Had I bought enough gas?”.

US 40 West out of Frederick – The Old National Pike – is really a treat. It climbs up the mountain (Eastern US version) that sits between Frederick and Hagerstown, where the road immediately enters the forest of Gambrill State Park right outside of town. It’s green, it’s uncongested, with broad, sweeping curves on the climb. The sightlines are stupendous.

If you needed a place to stretch things out, 40 through Gambrill would be the place you’d need.

After clearing the I-70 interchange, I rolled the throttle open and surfed the big wave as the small four spun up into its happy zone. I was focused and comfortable enough to be monitoring both the tach and speedo intently, basically plotting a little dyno chart in my head as the Kawi loosed the bees, made tremendous MotoGP invoking, howling noise, and pulled third gear up the grade.

Around 9000 rpm things were happening as quickly I felt they needed to be happening, so I thokkked the bike up into fourth — noting that the higher one spun this engine, the better it seemed to shift. I rolled the throttle back on and took a brief draught of fourth gear. As much room as I had, it was running out quickly, and the speedometer needle was well into ‘unsafe for conditions’ on a public highway. I thokkkked up into top gear and commenced giving back throttle until I was doing a reasonable impersonation of a socially responsible cruise.

Up here at highway speed, I was impressed how comfortable this motorcycle really was. The airflow off the fairing and windscreen was surprisingly smooth — weather protection surprisingly good. The ride was taut, but not punishing. One could sense the action of the four cylinder engine, but it was mere mechanical character, and not objectionable in any way.

Both the bike and its rider were utterly at ease, and adapted for speed.

***

The rest of the ride was backroad riding school.

From 40 I turned left down Harmony Road – a little snake of a road that lets one work the sides of one’s tires.

Then down Maryland 17 South towards Middletown — the entire route stringing together elevation changes and combinations of technical corners. The ease with which the ZZR entered corners, and the precision with which it held exactly the desired angle and desired line was an illumination.

17 leads towards home, so I didn’t take it.

zittlestown

At Middletown, I went west on Alternate 40. Alt 40 heads up another (eastern variety) mountain. With so few mountains available, I was going to hit every one that presented itself.

Alt 40 is a very old roadway, and where it goes over the ridge is a series of decreasing radius, banked switchbacks that look intimidating but are a gas when properly executed. The ZZR was able to turn in harder and deeper and carry about 25 mph more than my antiques with absolutely zero drama — at the apexes the bike was planted, on line and with tons of ground clearance remaining.

As we came down into Boonsboro, I was held up behind a minivan that indicated its intention to turn left onto Maryland 67 South which was also my intended route. Trolling south out of town, we came to a legal passing zone, and I indicated left, and rolled on to play another game of Third Gear Rocketry. I shifted up as the front wheel got light, with the shift setting the front back on the pavement.

At Reno Monument Road, I made the left back towards the ridge, and worked the tight technical climb with the revs up in 2nd and 3rd gear, setting speed in and out of corners with the throttle.

Marker Road took me toward home. The decreasing radius corners and hilltop apexes which are dramatic on the airheads were dead boring and nailed down on this Kawasaki — roadgear working so well to make it almost seem like mind control.

On the last leg of Gapland road, the ZZR dissected the bridge corners, and did it with style and a wonderful howl of IC exhaust.

On the final straight before home I rolled fourth gear open and the 90 or so my S will make was quickly vaporized — 45 or so more horsepower into roughly the same weight does have some effect.

***

Back in the driveway I found myself listening to the tink tink tink of the ZZR giving its heat back to the atmosphere, and quickly concluded that our 40 miles or so of road had barely scratched the surface of this bike’s capabilities.

wp_20170208_13_55_53_pro

 

I don’t think I ever revved the ZZR’s motor past 10,000 of those 14,000 rpm — leaving much of the bike’s power potential untapped and on the table. When riding this Kawasaki with its engine spinning up there, it simply ran out of room nearly instantly on any public road that I usually ride, well before it ran out of acceleration, ran out of speed.

The ZZR’s handling made my customary best twisty roads nearly trivial exercises — centralized mass, chassis rigidity, good geometry and sticky radials allowed me to place the bike exactly where I wanted it with minimal to absolutely no drama.

I’ll admit I’d found minimal use for the brakes, but the few times I’d deliberately ‘braked for effect’ they’d been pretty impressive — clearly more than enough power was available from the twin four piston Tokicos to overwhelm the front tire’s contact patch, if one was dumb or unskilled enough to put in a request for same.

Everything about the bike — from the howl of its engine, to my position on the bike that made attacking corners like breathing in and out, to the rush of its high end power delivery, to the big negative G’s on the brakes — sucked one in, encouraging more, harder, faster.

And while its cool to envision myself, wearing bright leathers with a waist size about three sizes smaller than mine actually is, swimming in the sound, slicing across corners with front tire skimming the pavement, dicing with Vale and Marc, its a fantasy with its home on a racetrack — on the street the bike is just out of its element, leaving too much on the table, yawning at anything remotely close to legal speed operation.

Its not even like the ZZR is some bit of 2017 vintage, European literbike exotica — there’s no EFI, no power delivery modes — not yet even a future wet dream of Inertial Management Units controlling lean angle sensitive traction control and antilock braking. This Kawasaki is a small displacement, commodity sportbike — an inexpensive, mass produced motorcycle that was actually an obsolete design when it built by a manufacturer that was just trying bleed out its investment in its tooling.

With all that going against it, its still a motorcycle that — transported back in time — would have probably walked away and won convincingly in any production-based class or even GP Racing until around 1977 when the design of the Yamaha TZ750 was finally debugged.

Modernity — in motorcycle form — means frames, tires and suspension that just work. It means engines that are designed to be routinely revved to ten and twelve thousand rpm and brakes that can pull the rear wheel clear of the ground again and again and again.

Its amazing, frankly, just how good an average modern motorcycle is.

Amazing, but simultaneously useless, at least when used on the road.

While it’s an absolute gas to validate that my years of roadcraft can instantly make the jump to more capable machinery, and to experience firsthand how far the bar has been raised, I’m not sure the temptation is enough to make me leave the motorcycling past for the future.

I’m OK with a run through the gears to the ton feeling like a thrilling trip to the edge, instead of that ton seeming like merely the starting line.

Movement

Good riding is like dancing — to get to that magic place one needs to relax and sense and surf the flow of the road beneath you — not forcing things but becoming one with it. It can be hard to achieve the utter concentration of focus and selflessness — it sounds almost Buddhist — where as a rider you are both there and not there concurrently.

Some people can close their eyes, inhale deeply and just get there every day.

For others that place might be as remote as the surface of the moon.

 

***

 

In the middle of a stranglingly soul crushing work day, the internet bought me this.

Australian World Superbike Champion and all-round charming guy Troy Corser was racing at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed — piloting a 1935 BMW RSS works racer. The RSS was equipped with a rigid rear suspension and tires that were of comparable width to those on my mountain bicycle.

Yet there was Troy, piloting a more than 80 year old motorcycle, and instead of being mindful of conserving his priceless museum piece, was absolutely wringing its neck — riding it like he stole it — and keeping up a pace that appeared to be in the same zip code as a current superbike racer.

Troy was absolutely in the zone — limbs loose and graceful, body position low on the motorcycle, with the throttle mostly wide open and the bike moving around — demonstrating the unmistakable bucking movement under power of a rigid rear roadracer. If the bike had brakes Troy made absolutely no use of them. At points, both ends of the bike would completely break loose — something that seemed to faze Troy not a whit — he’d just gather up the bike with gentle inputs on the bars and go back to shepherding the RSS back in the direction of another Pole Position pace lap.

His riding was nothing less than a thing of beauty to behold.

The sound of that RSS motor spinning hard way up the rev band — that boxer aeromotor drone — was both familiar and evocative — a clear invitation.

I headed for the garage at my first opportunity.

 

***

 

Don’t get me wrong.

Troy Corser’s entire self is likely less than the width of one of my chubby legs. His worst day in the saddle no doubt eclipses my best.

But watching the old boxer moving around underneath him had me ghosting the sensations in my hands and feet and thighs, and I knew I could play back that magic I’d seen.

I knew just the place to do it, too.

I headed over the ridge from Jefferson — headed down to the Potomac and Point of Rocks. From there I rode Ballenger Creek Pike through the southern farms of Frederick County — tight technical stuff through the woods then opening up to run through pastureland.

I was headed for Cap Stein Road — a hedgerow-lined Colonial Era road that followed the property lines of those earliest Maryland estates.

Like many of these old roads, it gets right down to business, with a tight decreasing radius right hander less than 50 yards in. It’s like starting a fist fight with your best right cross straight to the face — there’s no mystery about one’s intentions after that.

Cap Stein is lovely because the next several corners combine grades and apexes — from the tops of some hills and the bottoms of others. The topography hides the corner exits, but this is by no means my first run down this road. I keep the R90’s motor spun up and on the boil — it is only for a set of bang-bang 90s that I’m forced to drop a gear to third for my entries.

The S moves around on its suspension as tires scrub and slide — I stay loose and let the wheels do what they do.

My old motorcycle and I are truly alive — straightening out a twisty roadway and making a wonderful noise.

 

***

 

After dropping back into the Middletown Valley, I rode Gapland and Broad Run at full chat back to the house.

As I stood beside the bike after shut down, I let the sound die down in my head.

Letting the bike move its way, while I moved mine — letting the road come to me instead of forcing the machine to it.

Never had 30 minutes been so restorative.

All of the cerebral noise of the day had been banished by the purity of movement.

Harp Hill and Harmony

I don’t know about you, but I am just not feeling it these days.

I can’t remember a time when my spirit has been under so many concurrent manifestations of psychic and emotional assault.

I have never really been into all black motorcycles, but all of a sudden I know where those riders are coming from.

‘Cause black is how it feels, man.

 

***

 

Last week the firm for which I work had the end of their fiscal year. Instead of the usual celebration it was a funeral.

And funerals sort of require that at least someone is departed.

So a fair number of my fellow workers involuntarily departed to satisfy that requirement.

Don’t let people tell you that it feels better to have been kept on, cause its different for everyone.

Did I mention this the third time this year?

 

***

 

For the entire summer, this part of Maryland has been lacking for rain.

In the last six days, we caught up.

More accurately caught up, did the slingshot pass coming out of the slipstream and then won going away.

Six days of gutter rattling, gully washing, roof pounding, pissing off Booosy my cat constant rain.

Is the sun ever going to come out?

 

***

 

Have you turned on your television news lately?

If you have not, please take my well-intentioned advice, and under no circumstances should you do that.

You will thank me, of that I am certain.

I was educated in a tradition which required that those with the skills should serve the greater good.

That those with the skills to lead, for example, should seek that opportunity.

Apparently, that memo was not widely circulated.

Of this dark thing, we shall speak no more.

 

***

 

I got a series of texts, pictures, and a phone call from one very cold, very wet Finn who had just discovered just how insistent gravity can be when you and everything around you are soaking wet and slippery.

Freaketh out not, Finn’s Manifold Adoptive Uncles and Aunties, as this Physics Lesson was learned at 0 miles per hour, and resulted in no injuries except perhaps to pride. Regardless of how it happened the net result was a Buell Blast lying down on its left side to take a brief nap in the parking garage of Finn’s apartment.

Twice.

It would figure when the poor kid was trying to get in a rhythm living away at school that Nature and Physics would conspire to provide a another minor bummer.

And after a brief conversation about how he was likely not the first person to whom this had happened, I pointed out there was a very good reason his old man had put that slip joint pliers into the tool kit that Buell hadn’t provided.

To wit: Anything that can be bent, can, within limits and with a little luck, be unbent.

And that this was a skill that, once developed, was likely to be used more than just this time.

So Finn set to unbending, and I set to renewing my friendship with my local Harley-Davidson Parts Counterman, to seek a more permanent solution.

Hey, if the whole economy goes loose in the rear end, I can now put One Half A Harley-Davidson Mechanic as a skill on my resume.

One never knows what the difference might be between making it and not, eh?

 

***

 

Maybe the difference might be just a slice of one sunny day.

Sunday saw Sweet Doris From Baltimore (SDFB?) headed off to one of the cluster of wedding and baby showers that seem to be happening now.

After some puttering around, and having an egg, I pulled on some armoured mesh riding pants over my cargos, grabbed my Vanson and headed for the garage.

The whole point was trying to blast out the funk I was in, so I made sure to get out of any riding rut I might be in, too.

Having not been that way for a while, I headed for the mountains of the North County.

 

***

 

Just past Middletown, Harmony Road breaks East towards the Catoctins.

Harmony is a little dance of road, starting with a series of gentle esses, then a series of lovely 90s. With some heat in the Boxer, the noise riding the throttle between 4 and 6 K, rolling off on entries and picking the bike up with revs on the exit, was just racetrack electric.

An observation: Human beings respond negatively to six days of rain. Gnats and mosquitos, in contrast, do not.

I have been routinely bugsplatted.

This, on the otherhand, was something else — insect carnage on an unprecidented level.

Harmony Road crosses US40 — The National Pike — and works its way, one sweeper at a time, up the back side of the Catoctin Mountains. With the S running 4th gear with the revs just below the engine’s best power it was an exercise in road reading — leaning over and back smoothly and just straightening out the road’s gentle curves.

Harmony drops one off in a little village that sits by Catoctin Creek. It has a name that I’ve forgotten and that Google doesn’t know. The intersection ranks as one of the screwiest and most dangerous ones that I can think of, at least from the perspective of a Motorcyclist. Harmony Ts into Maryland Route 17, which immediately — IMMEDIATELY! — breaks 45 degrees left to go across the bridge over Catoctin Creek. Upon exiting the short bridge one encounters another T — with Harp Hill Road breaking off gently up the hill to one’s left, while 17 comes in from a Sucker-punch invisible 110 degrees over ones right shoulder — and the view of the highway is blocked from the bridge by its Jersey barrier sides.

Attention should indeed be paid — a mistake here would be ugly.

But assuming you survive the intersection, Harp Hill is just a treat — it clings to the right side of a mountain stream Valley with amazing green views of the Valley’s farms stretching off to the right below you. One rides curves of the rising land on the way up — negotiates a kind of ‘reverse carousel’ with a crazy uphill grade on the exit — and then crests the ridgeline and rides the curves of the falling land on the way back down to where the road enters the Town of Wolfsville.

From Wolfsville one takes Stottlemyer Road, which continues to wind its way North down a gentle ridgeback, with the road taking you though forest shade and open farmland. Stottlemyer runs into Maryland 77, about two miles down the road from the American Legion Camp where the local BMW Club has always held its rallies.

I’m not going that way today, though, and I cut eastward down the face of the Mountain towards Thurmont. There are a few spectacular corners that run through the massive boulders — souvenirs, no doubt of some long-gone glacier — that fill the forest here. There are also too many tourists here to see the Catoctin National and Cunningham Falls State Parks, so I quickly jump back off 77 onto Catoctin Hollow Road, heading for the deepest of our deep woods.

Once clear of the Cunningham Falls State Park Lake Area, Catoctin Hollow quickly turns rough, with limited sightlines, as it runs though small farms that have probably sat on that mountain since the late 1700s. There are a lot of very large trees very close to the road. It’s the sort of road one rides with one’s weight on one’s legs, staying light in the saddle to clear bumps and to steer by selectively weighting the pegs.

I remember right then, my favorite navigational accident, and make the right onto Old Mink Farm Road. Old Mink Farm looks like nothing — a one laner that looks like it could be a glorified farm driveway — the type of road that you head down and end up having to come back. Mink Farm Road, though, takes one to Tower Road, the Frederick Watershed, and Gambrill State Park — a more or less straight shot down the mountainous backbone of the county, though its deepest forests, through Bear County, and straight back towards home.

In the deepest part of the Forest, the road goes into Wilderness preservation areas, and where there is an ‘Ecology Retreat Center’ and a Quaker Church Camp, the road goes back to being unpaved. These ancient Maryland mountain roads are a mixture of clay and crushed limestone, which after six straight days of deluge, are now an interesting riding surface. About 95 percent slick wet clay mud and 5 percent F-150 swallowing water filled chuckholes. It’s a road that keeps one’s throttle hand honest and demands ones’ full directional attention. Another road that dictates some form of horsemanlike riding standing knees bent. That road also likely explains why almost no-one come up here, so I have to be glad for that.

After about 4 miles of traction school, Mink Farm Road comes back to pavement where it changes to Tower Road, and then the fun really begins. Tower Road is uneven in a way that shakes out one’s suspension — short bumpy straights separated by serial switchbacks and then the whole thing repeats. For about 15 miles of Forest one can imagine oneself in the old public road Raceways of Europe. Just one’s bike and the road and all the hazards yours alone to manage. The S is in its intended habitat here — wheels at both ends moving/working — with the aeromotor bark and drone of the motor echoing back from forest around me.

It it really so far from here to the Nordschleife?

 

***

 

Like all time this time also goes by too fast, and I find myself back in my own South Middletown Valley — I’m cutting up Broad Run Road towards my town and my home — winding fourth gear out to 6000 before ringing the shift into top and running WFO towards the last sweeping curve before town. The S shows what it has pulling hard as 90 and 95 sweep past. The old thoroughbred touches the ton before I have to give throttle back to set for the turn.

Through town we gently troll — cooling off and shutting petcocks to drain the fuel from carburetor bowls. I roll up to the garage entry, shift into neutral and roll the throttle once — then twice. The carbs seem well balanced — response is even and swift.

Is there a bit more top end noise than perfect? Perhaps.

But when I’m as old as this motorcycle is in motorcycle years, I hope a little top end noise is all I have to worry about.

As long as this motorcycle and I both keep starting well every morning, and get to take rides like this one every once in a while, then maybe there’s just no room for the blues.

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