Supercommuting

I hang with a lot of IT Strategy types – you know, the type that are prone to pronouncements that are intended to sound like harbingers of an inevitable future.

These types are prone to utterances like “Work is something you do, not somewhere you go.”

Strategy types are correct about as often as weathermen.

So, I’ve been putting on a lot of miles.

I’ve found a new gig, with a new outfit – one that will let me work directly with clients to solve their technical problems. And while I’m learning the ropes, and, more importantly – learning my new teammates – it is in my best interest for work to be somewhere I go.

That somewhere is in the center of Baltimore city – about 60 miles from my home in Jefferson.

It’s not like I haven’t got the perfect hammer for that nail – my K1200LT vaporizes intercity distances effortlessly. But adjusting – after several home based work years – to the time required, to the changes in circadians, and frankly, to get my best high-speed distance riding form thawed out – has sent a slight judder through the overall system.

 

***

 

It’s July in Maryland, which used to be something that produced fairly predictable weather patterns – patterns that apparently don’t hold, anymore. In the early mornings, when I leave The Shop, it’s been sunny and in the low 60s. I troll easily through the neighborhood and the new informal Jefferson Bypass through Roundtree Road, trying to get some heat in the engine before reaching for the whip.   By the time I roll onto 340 East, the thermostat is opening and I roll each gear well out to around 6500 rpm under light throttle before shifting up. I don’t get top gear until the very top of the hill, and then thonk into top around 80 and then hit the tunnel of trees on the shaded side of the ridge.

The short US 340 sprint downhill though Frederick and over to I-70 and 270 has become surprisingly crowded – at the interchange, the majority of those people elect for 270 towards Washington – at which point the road to Baltimore really opens up and lets one open the throttle too. A few miles east of The City of Frederick one finds that rolling, high-speed groove, and enters the state of the perfect meditative Ohmmm. Just under 4000 rpm shows what for a K1200LT is a loafing 82 mph that makes the green and rolling countryside a thing of joy.   Sometimes I carry a few more revs on cruise than that.

A K12 is in its element here – unstressed at speed, with tons of passing power available – it could do this for days and days. Unfortunately, it can only do this on this particular run for a little over 40 miles, until the US 29 interchange comes in range. US 29 is one of Greater Baltimore Washington’s Mother Roads – it was one of two primary North/South roads though the region – running through Northern Virginia, DC and Columbia, Maryland, before I 95 was built. 29 carries 3 lanes of traffic in each direction, and where it ends as it meets the Interstate, I-70 is only two lanes wide.  I may not be a certified math genius, but I’m pretty sure 2+3 is NOT 2.

29, predictably, is where the trouble starts in the morning on the way in, and where it ends in the afternoon on the way home.

As I get to the 29 interchange, brake lights come on, downshifts are blipped, and depending on my timing, we either troll along at about 30 mph in second gear – or its drop down to first to find the slowest steady speed one can manage without working the clutch. Once clear of the merge at US 29,  speeds come back up for just a little while, until get to the Baltimore beltway.  The Beltway connects 70 – that comes in from the west – with I-95 – which runs either through the Fort McHenry tunnel towards Philly and New York, or straight into downtown Baltimore.

There’s only a mere five miles of Beltway between those two routes. All five of those miles are under construction. In both directions.

So add peak rush hour insanity to some demoed paving surfaces, toss in Jersey Barrier or two, and you have all the ingredients required for a relaxing ride in the country. It only took a day or two of this for my agility and mobility skills within the traffic stream to come roaring all the way back to peak function.

After the short Adventure Ride ™, one picks up I-95 that leads straight up into the city.  95 has six lanes in each direction, and despite the volume is always moving briskly, which quickly brings the downtown Baltimore skyline into view.  With its cluster of skyscrapers, its pair of Stadiums for the Orioles and Ravens, The Bromo Seltzer tower – a sponsored copy of the Campanile of Florence — and the harbor all in view, all of the good things I’ve ever thought about Baltimore come rushing back every time I make this run. The 395 spur takes the ride right into the heart of downtown – I’ve only got 6-7 blocks to the Baltimore Street office – although those blocks can be congested. By this time of the morning the heat of the day is starting up, and being stuck in surface traffic with a half-scale formula racing engine riding in my lap does not necessarily represent that which most fun about motorcycling.

Calvert Street North dumps me right at the entrance to the office’s garage – an older ramp design inside the office tower itself, which, on a larger motorcycle is another kind of adventure ride.

One of the officers of my new company saw me on my way from the garage, still accoutered in my Roadcrafter Suit, and wanted to know if I regarded my new job as so dangerous as to require full armor.  I cheerfully responded that were that the case, I would certainly also be wearing my helmet.

The new job is engaging, and there is lots for me to learn or adapt – it demands my focus, and time has been flying by.

So most days it seems I am pulling back on my gear and velcroing stuff to other stuff with almost not being aware of any time in between.

At quitting time, with temperatures up into the 90s, and people carrying some ‘tude after a day at work, reversing those 6 or 7 blocks is a tad more hellish.

People will try to tell you that inner city Baltimore motorcyclists have a complete and utter disregard for the extent to which traffic laws apply to them. Those nameless people that are always trying to tell you things would, in this case, be largely and materially correct.

One of those stylish riders – combining shorts, a tank top, a Sportster with drag pipes and a Chromed German Military-style helmet – pulled a racetrack inside pass on the shoulder on the big SUV behind me while making the right turn into Conway Street, which leads back to 395 and the slab outta town.  He was pretty pleased with himself as he flicked back in front of that SUV, at least until the millisecond he discovered that one cannot actually see through or around massive SUVs, and that he had failed to see the fairly large object that already occupied the space – in this case, LT straddling me.

His eyes got real big. I communicated to him that I held a dim view of his intelligence. He made no significant effort to refute my assertion.

Summer in Maryland has always meant thunderstorms, but storms lately are more localized, stronger and potentially more violent. Given how well the current generation of Aerostich suits has implemented waterproofing, I really don’t ever worry about getting wet at all anymore. Hitting any storm means closing the vent zippers, closing the LT’s cockpit wind deflectors, setting the electric windshield’s height to just below my eyeline, and jamming on. The Avon Storm tires I run handle rain like you’d expect from a British tire. If there’s ever been a better foul weather motorcycle, I have no experience or even news of it.

Coming home yesterday, I intersected the path of one of these violent downbursts.  I buttoned up for rain, and didn’t even feel the need to back my road speed off – the Storms were perfectly planted, under both power and braking. I know there are people out there that already question my rationality when it comes to motorcycling, but given a choice between making this run in 95 degree heat, or cooled off by the rain and running a wet 77, I’ll pick the rain every time. In the western portion of the run, on open Interstate at speed, the LT didn’t provide even a single moment of drama, even in conditions that had the more timid automobilists pulling off the roadway.

And in the time it takes to pass a few cars, and think a few things, I found myself rolling back up my driveway at home again.  Time and distance vaporization indeed.

Sweet Doris from Baltimore and I are looking for a house somewhere substantially closer to that Baltimore street office. With Finn having moved to the City after being hired by an architecture firm there, my job there, and her parents, who increasingly need her help, there, there is a confluence of forces that should be sufficient to finally get her back home.

Until we figure it all out, though, I’m content to keep trying to wear out a K12, one hundred twenty miles at a time.  I’d be the first one, I think, to be successful in that.

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The Circuit

While we live, we learn.

At least that is what I keep telling myself, and what I keep trying to demonstrate to myself and others.

And while I admit that a partial fear of the converse – If we stop learning, we’re dead meat – may be a component of my motivation, I’d like to think that stubbornly driving forward under any and all conditions is just a crucial part of my DNA.

So I embrace the new.  Or, more precisely, new knowledge and new experiences.

Everything short of bungee jumping – which strikes me as a pointless kind of sticking a pin in one’s adrenal system – if I have not yet done it, bring it on.

So, it is in this context of seeking and embracing all forms of personal growth, that I am almost embarrassed to admit that until yesterday, I had never ridden a motorcycle on a racetrack.  I’ve ridden nearly a half million miles on the street and on the dirt – crossing the continent and lapping the Great Lakes — but had never turned so much as a wheel on a closed, competition course.

Yesterday, though.  Oh, yesterday.

One of my better pieces of self-made luck has been a relationship with Royal Enfield USA – the US Importer/Agent for Royal Enfield Motorcycles of Chennai, India.  A long time back I had seen some details about new motorcycles that Enfield had in their development pipeline, and it was very clear that the company wanted to show it could do way more than build 350 and 500 cc Bullet Motorcycles. Those bikes would turn out to be the Continental GT 535, The Himalayan, and the 650 cc INT and Continental GT twins.  I wanted to write about the Himalayan, but a rash of technical problems kept the timing from working out. When the arrangements started to finally gel, most writers had already had a chance to review and write about the bike, and I felt very late to that party. So I stuck my neck out and proposed instead of being late to the Himalayan Party, I’d prefer to be early to the 650 Twins party.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I got.

All of the early coverage for the Royal Enfield 650 twins had been the result of an invitation-only press junket in Carmel California. You can assume from the construction of this description that I was not invited. All those present got a presentation, a nice meal, and 50 miles or so of Northern California roads to roll under the Enfield 650’s wheels.

I don’t know about you, but 50 miles is just about enough to have me know what questions I want to ask about any motorcycle, but nowhere close to enough to have me have any answers to those questions.

It’s a tease, but it isn’t an understanding, and it certainly isn’t any kind of relationship.

So, having asked and having got, I ended up with one of the Enfield 650 demo fleet in my garage, and got to be the first guy outside of India that would be able to really live with the motorcycle for a while, and see if it was something that could be bonded with, and much to my amazement and enjoyment, it was.

When I had to return the Enfield, I’ll cop to being kinda bummed.

A bumming that came to an abrupt end when Enfield USA decided to take their collection of demo bikes to a series of Road and Racetrack locations across the country. Enfield’s stop in my neck of the woods was at West Virginia’s Summit Point Motorsports Park, a legendary collection of 3 different racetracks that is such a brief blast out US 340 West out of Jefferson that I’m not sure it’s even far enough to fully warm up a BMW airhead.

All my family and friends had arranged for something else to do that day, Nature served up a perfectly sunny 76 degree afternoon, so there was no conceivable reason to do anything else other than pull on my seldom used Vanson perfed pants and jacket, throwing a few liters of cold water and some towels into the R90S’s cases, and BOOOOOMPing towards West Virginia at enthusiastically elevated speeds.

After some lovely road dancing on the last 5-6 miles into Summit, the Racetrack was awash in the sounds of Enfield’s 270 degree crankshaft vertical twin – with a bark and a power delivery much more like a Vtwin than the British twins the Enfield 650s most resemble. One dedicated fan had even ridden in on a 1969 Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 – the only one I’ve ever seen running and on the road.

A Royal Enfield Continental GT 650, with chrome accessory tank, flyscreen and S&S pipes

In the paddock of the Summit Point’s Shenandoah Circuit, Royal Enfield was set up large and was clearly ready to party. Their Black Tractor-trailer transporter, with artwork of the 650s served as a backdrop for the whole event, replete with DJ, Foodtruck, and a small army of photographers, videographers, and a few artists thrown in for additional color.  Running the whole show and clearly busier than a one-legged woman in an ass-kicking contest was my contact at Royal Enfield, Bree Poland.  Bree and her crew were wrangling riders through the sign up and release processes, checking gear, giving safety talks, and marshalling groups of roughly 25 riders around the Circuit.

Bree had recruited Melissa Paris – a successful professional Superbike racer – to be our lead Track Marshall.  And before I knew it, I was astride a white Continental GT 750, blipping off a few revs, fumbling a bit to adjust to pegs that were higher and more rearward than the INT 650 that I’d tested, and following an AMA Pro Roadracer out onto the Shenandoah Circuit.

And then the black and white curbing was sweeping by.

Now a Continental GT is not a modern technology track missile. The 47 horsepower of the bike’s stock configuration is probably right in line with my BMW /5’s stock output when it was new.  The GT is a perfectly responsive classic motorcycle that has the virtue, though, of doing absolutely what it is told. My experience of it had indicated that the harder it was pushed, the better it liked it.

And then the black and white curbing was sweeping by.

Feel free to go ahead and mock, but the feeling that lifted me up to another place that sunny afternoon was one I’d never want to have not experienced. Looking down Shenandoah’s long subtly kinked backstraight, with its sharp left hander at the bottom by the treeline, I could simply see my riding playing out several moves ahead… a string that got longer in terms of playing though the rhythm of multiple corners the more laps I put in.

I was able to cut harder, with confidence, than I would ever do on the street – Summit’s racing surface was perfect – clean, grippy, and even where there were patches, the edges of the repairs had no effect on the Enfield’s grip or handling. Being able to focus like this on line and on mass management, without having to factor in errant aggregates or traffic, was a soul stirring illumination of an experience. I mean, I heard Angels singing. Now my Angels sound suspiciously like a large assemblage of 250 CC Two Stroke GP bikes, but they are angels.

The Royal Enfield continued to impress. It could be wrung out through about a 4000 rpm wide powerband, and had good acceleration and engine braking on the slipper clutch entering corners. Leaned well over and taking drive out of corners, the bike felt unstressed and comfortable on the sides of its tires, with plenty of chassis performance left in reserve.

So with a compliant and trustworthy mount, it all became about the riding.

There are several sections of tighter corner combinations where going from edge to edge of the tires and the transitions were absolutely dancing – I felt like I could put the bike almost exactly where I wanted it, and like I could always do it just a little better, and just a little bit faster.

And that is perhaps the most single dangerous statement in the motorcycling universe.

It’s why every racer that ever lived does it. And why I really never wanted to stop.

I get it now why people get completely obsessed over riding CB160s. Or how someone who has better skills and bigger stones than I lay claim to can see their entire life telescoped down to that pinpoint perspective that you get at the end of the straight on a 600cc or 1000 cc four cylinder superbike.

Yeah, even with my Continental GT’s 47 horsepower, the straights are still fun. WFO is still and always WFO. At those points, the stripes on the curbing blur by… faster.

Just at the point when my racetrack virgin self was really starting to internalize the oneness of the circuit, we ran out of laps.

This too, I suspect is a universal motivator for the racetrack-addled.

“Please, Sir…just one more go?”

Fortunately, today’s party permitted getting back in queue, and, after a suitable delay, heading back out again with what turned out to be the last group of the day to hit the track.

Perhaps I’m sensitive, but the Last Group was giving off less than subtle ‘Fast Guy’ vibes. The Enduro Coats and open face helmets were gone… these guys had helmets with spoilers.

Remember guys – this is not a race.

The Ever Efficient and tidy rider Ms. Paris – who was pretty used up after lapping all day – did notice that this group seemed to be a bit more comfortable, and increased the previous pace just enough to make things a bit more interesting. I had a few places on the course now where braking was the proper tool, and my progress through the corner combinations and the verve with which the long straights were greeted took me to a place where my mind was shiny and bright, my body performed in a state of grace, and my heart sang high in my chest.

I can’t understand for the life of me why I waited so long to do this.  And I can’t wait for the next time I get to do it again.

To lean way over, roll open the throttle, and watch the black and white striped curbing go sweeping by.

Forty Six

I went up to Summit Point yesterday, and I learned a few things.

Why I went to The Track and what I was doing up there will have to wait till later to fully relate, but a trivial thing I did learn is that hanging out in The Pits in full leathers – even on a not that hot sunny day – is a hot, sticky business. There was room for a lot more potable water than I carried in the hard cases of the R90S – I should have made better use of it.

After an enthusiastic R90S blast over the 30 miles of backroad twisties and US Highway that lies between Summit and The Shop, and after an equally enthusiastic shedding of my Vanson pants and jacket, and a perhaps more enthusiastic glugging of about 2 to 3 quarts water and some foodstuffs, my increasingly cogent thoughts – resulting from non-negative blood sugar levels – turned to some way of really cooling off a body that was still running marginally hot.

With the sun finally having set and the temperature having dropped just below 70 degrees, I grabbed my perforated jacket, helmet and gloves, and the ignition pin for the Slash 5. As my only bike without a windshield, The Toaster was the best way available to catch a much needed full body breeze.

As I threw a leg over, and turned on the ignition, I found it nearly unbelievable that my oldest motorcycle had somehow come to be forty six years old. If this bike was somehow old, then I was, too. Forty Six years old didn’t seem to have any effect on a motorcycle whose starter motor slammed into place like a light sledgehammer and heaved the big bore twin to life on the third compression stroke. And Forty Six years old didn’t stop an engine that came off the enrichener after only 10 seconds or so, and that settled into an absolutely even 1100 rpm idle. Some of this motorcycle’s seals might be a little seepy, but the hard parts were still as fit for purpose and almost as tight — 180,000 road miles later — as when they were designed.

There is almost nothing modern about a motorcycle like this, though. Ride-By-Wire? Only if the wire is a 16 strand steel Bowden control cable – which on the Slash 5 connects a gear-driven throttle cartridge to a pair of Constant Velocity Bing throttle butterflies. There isn’t a micro- or even a macro-processor, or anything digital, for that matter, anywhere in the machine. Everything – Ignition, Fuel Delivery, Instrumentation — is Analog – an ancient world where all of physics was continuous change – instead of a series of discrete values snapshotted every few milliseconds or so – there was this world which consisted of all the time in between that the digital world has dropped. If we ever have one of those Electromagnetic Pulse events that destroy all of our electronic technology, the /5 will be one of the few motor vehicles that will be left to run. Brakes? Both ends by drum, actuated by cables. People will joke that these brakes are ‘anti-lock’, but those people do not know how to properly adjust these brakes, and they would be wrong. The handlebars have two multifunction switches. Two. That’s it. Ignition – rather than by Bluetooth or even by key, is by a Bosch ignition pin that would have been common to every German motorcycle, scooter or moped made during a two decade postwar period.

You could look at such a machine as ‘obsolete’, but that would be missing an important point, which is that this 1973 BMW is still as much of a balanced thoroughbred of a motorcycle today as it was when Bob Lutz was pitching it and was pictured wearing tan-colored leathers on this exact model and paint color bike outside the Berlin Factory Gate sometime in 1972. Turning from neighborhood streets up the state highway towards Brunswick, in each successive gear the motor provides a lovely crescendo of thrust which combines with the bike rising front and rear under acceleration – each gear being literally onward and upward. Each gearshift is deliberate and percussive, with the suspension falling as the power is dialed off, and then rising once more as the power comes back on again.
Most BMWs I’ve ridden seem to have a really serene, unstressed spot in their rev bands right around 3900 rpm – in top gear the bike is loafing, and just riding that little aeromotor hum blithely along. Tonight the goal is to stay in that sweet spot – to just cruise along and drink in this perfect evening. The original mufflers on the /5 — are tuned to allow the tiniest bit of the low frequencies of the exhaust to rumble, while keeping overall sound pressure levels at societally responsible levels. The longer I’ve ridden motorcycles, the more I’ve come to appreciate the ability of a quiet exhaust not to rat one out when one is riding like a total knob.

Original Zeppelin-shaped Mufflers — there’s a lot of exhaust tubing in there…

I resolved to stay out of the bottoms and on the county’s straighter roads – this spring we’ve had a very active deer population, and lots of black bear incursions as well. These slightly bigger roads give me the best chances to see and react to these little potential deer or bear hugs that have a bad tendency to end badly. 180 West, 17 up to Middletown, US 40 Alt over Braddock and down to Frederick, and then Butterfly Lane and back to 180 West, coming back to Jefferson from the east. Forty miles of feeling the just cool enough to be pleasurable air coming through the perf on my leather jacket and listening to the boxer’s little aeroplane sounds.

Halfway up MD 17 to Middletown, the cooling temperatures must have hit the dew point, because suddenly the road was bordered by swirling wisps of fog, which grew as each mile rolled past. Far from being uncomfortable, the slight chill was entirely welcome – helping my elevated core temperatures back in the direction of nominal. Coming over Braddock Mountain is one of my favorite Slash 5 rides – at 60 mph the big sweepers that mark both the ascent and descent are challenging enough to let one know one is motorcycling without coming anywhere close to the Toaster’s handling limits – one can carry good speed and lean angle mid corner and enjoy instant punch from the meat of the bike’s midrange on the exits – if Disneyland had a ‘motorcycle attraction’ it would probably be a lot like this.

Coming back into Jefferson along MD 180 the evening temperature drop became more pronounced – the lowspots in the highway announced themselves with noticeably cooler air blasting through the perforated leather and standing up the hair on my arms and with slightly foggier spots necessitating the use of the tiny faceshield wiper blade built into the left thumb of my Aerostitch elkskin gauntlets. The /5’s boxer motor loved the cool, dense air – the exhaust thrum was a perfect meditative ‘Ohhm’. Three quarters of an hour of this top gear roll had cooled me down perfectly, and brought a nearly perfect state of calm to my spirit. Had this been an amusement park ride I’d have likely been asking Dad to ride it again.

It wasn’t of course, and the ride ended too soon. As I trolled back into my neighborhood I closed the fuel petcocks and stayed out of the throttle. My neighbors likely curse at the teenager with the drag piped Sportster that lives next door – those same neighbors would never know I’d been here. As I rolled into the open garage I pulled in the clutch and reached forward and pulled out the ignition pin before I came to a stop – in 1973 the ‘kill switch’ was still a new, or in BWW’s case, a future technology.

I rocked the bike up on her centerstand, and sat my helmet and gloves on the saddle. I walked over to the ‘Adult Fridge’ on the workbench, and grabbed a Real Ale Revival Grapefruit Nectar – a bracing cold one that would serve as a big exclamation point on what had been a perfect day. Before going into the house, I turned back to look at this old motorcycle – my ‘Alloy Girlfriend’ — time hadn’t done anything to make her less beautiful. Forty six years is nowhere near long enough to make this motorcycle anything but fun to take for a cool, relaxed evening ride.

Sloppy

One of the reasons I like living in Maryland, is that mosttimes, we really don’t get Winter here.

Sure. It might get cold. It might even snow a little.

But tell a rider from Michigan, or Wisconsin, or somewhere up in Northern New England that You, as A Marylander, are experiencing Winter, and those riders will laugh right in your face.

The flip side of that bummer though, is a day like this one.

It had snowed a few inches two days ago — it was dark, cloudy, cool and grey out. I’d been at home by myself, head down in my office, doing various forms of energy sucking focus, when all of a sudden, the Sun. Came. Out.

I hadn’t expected that at all.

I had actually wrapped the things that had me in the office, so I accepted this as a sign from the universe, grabbed my helmet and split.

The temperature out was 38 degrees f., and headed for 40. All of the pastureland hereabouts would be shedding snowmelt, and most roads would be doing a passable impression of one of the nearby creeks. It’s days like this — and many other kinds of days — that make me glad I have an Aerostich — no amount of road spray is going to get past my suit.

The Royal Enfield INT 650 test bike that still lives here fired right up coming off a few nights of disuse and deep freeze.

The cold air felt great, snapping me to full awareness until the tearing and blast of cold air on my cheeks forced me to close my helmet’s visor until it was only opened a click. The first pastureland I passed by, right as I picked up the Pike, had water streaming out of it, right where I’d expected, setting the theme for what would prove to be a wet and sloppy ride.

After crossing 340, heading west on the Pike, each successive farm had at least one new stream cutting across the roadway, making riding this motorcycle, with its scrambler bar and riding position, far more scrambley that most previous rides had been. I rode in a horseman’s position — standing up yet knees and back bent — keeping my weight positioned forward and over the bars — able to steer with hands, legs and feet.

Headed to the back roads there were spots in the treeline where it wasn’t clear that ice had all melted out — where those spots of flowing water also looked somehow skaty — we’d go to neutral throttle and take the frame straight up and down just to minimize the potential of one of Mother Nature’s Unpleasant Little Surprises.

But in all of these snotty wet, dirty and maybe frozen intersections and stream crossings — little baby stream fords — the Orange Menace never so much as put a wheel out of place. In only a few hundred miles, this bike has gained my confidence to do exactly what it has been told and no less and no more.

These kinds of conditions are where too much power is just not your friend. Where too much of anything — mass, power, entrance speed in a corner, too much drive coming out — translate instantly to sparks and a sickening scraping sound.

But balance — where there is just enough of what one needs without there being too much — can turn what could be a whiteknuckled wrestling match into just another zen ride — dancing on the razor’s edge while smiling all the while.

 

I’m going to have to figure out how to wash this bike in January before giving it back.

Bonding

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

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

That wasn’t going to change today.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

65 miles from the front door.

Sold.

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

Welcome to adulting lesson one.

Now all we had to do was pick it up.

 

***

 

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

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

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

Just ‘effin perfect.

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

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

“Let’s take your bike.”

That’s my boy.

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

“It’s raining.”

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup. I’m looking for Jim Stantz.”

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

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

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

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

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

Well, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The bike fit him like it was made for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ready to Roll

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

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

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

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

“Sounds perfect. Let’s go.”

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

 

***

 

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

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

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You tell me you don’t see Optimus Prime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

At the next stop I signaled.

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

“I’m OK – let’s keep bangin’.”

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Costa Mesa Bros got nothin’ on us.

 

Big Rides, Little Rides

Sometimes I just have to go for a ride.

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

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

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

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

I needed to go for a little ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

 

Shaky

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

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

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

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

I tell Finn I’ll call him back.

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

Some of them more than once.

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

Holes with Nothing In Them

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenging, but not impossible.

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5 Buell OEM Parts Bags – 40 Bucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing.

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

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

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

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

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