Feather Bed

The Universe is constantly sending us signs.

Me, I might be overly sensitive in my hunt for sign and significance, but always being open to them has lead me down some pretty interesting roads.

I was trying recently, as I apparently frequently am, to explain one of these signage mechanisms to Sweet Doris from Baltimore.

“The Featherbed-framed racing Norton is one of the only motorcycle frame structures so significant that it has its own name.  The McCandless brothers of Belfast created a foundational motorcycle chassis design – with one of the first applications of a twin shock absorber rear swinging arm suspension – that its development rider said rode so comfortably it was like ‘riding a feather bed’.”

“It’s a stupid name.”

“I guess it does kinda sound stupid, now, but in the context of 1949, when most motorcycles had kidney busting, back belt requiring rigid rear frames, it prolly made a lot more sense.”

You’d be entirely within your reader’s rights to inquire what on earth could possibly motivate an otherwise thinking male human to attempt this conversational topic with his beloved life partner, who was more than likely in no way impressed or compelled by the subject or its presenter, at that particular moment.

And having made that sensible inquiry, I’m more or less compelled to unravel the strands of the tale for you.

 

***

 

Having received my new Heidenau Scouts for my /5,  it was time to get them mounted and try ‘em out.

Fortunately, the traumatic experience I’d been through changing the rear tire on my R90S was nowhere in evidence here.   The rear axle and tire – with my customary pit crew help provided by Sweet Doris from Baltimore – were off and leaning against the garage wall in under five minutes flat.  And thanks to the assist from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department of the University of Michigan, the front wheel and drum brake assembly joined them five minutes later. The Toaster might be 47 years old, but properly torqued fasteners and proper lubrication made the entire exercise absolutely trivial.

I felt almost moistened by a rare flood of something approaching mechanical confidence.

I stacked two tires, two wheels and two new tubes in the back of my wagon in preparation for my run up to Fredericktown Yamaha in the morning when they opened.

 

***

 

Two days later, my phone rang with the news that the tires were ready to be picked up.  After quitting time, I blasted back up to Frederick and re-loaded my newly mounted and balanced tires.

It was a little hot out, but I wasn’t going to let any time elapse before trying these new and different skins.  I subjected both brake drums to a washdown with brake cleaner and some clean shoprags.  I greased up the drive splines, inner wheel bearing races, spacers and axles, and went to work. The front wheel was back in place in under five minutes – I torqued the axle bolt, pinch bolt and both ends of the brake stay rod to spec – bang done. I gave the wheel a gentle spin, and the bearings spun smoothly with no noise or binding – the shop had clearly done an accurate job balancing my wheel, as well.

It was then that I realized I had a little problem.

We motorcyclists are far from the only enthusiasts who have found themselves going outright stir-crazy during the lockdowns caused by the pandemic.

Right after I had dropped off my wheels at the shop, Sweet Doris from Baltimore had loaded up her recumbent pedal trike, her camping gear, and had headed out to complete the final section of her C & O Canal National Park Towpath end to end though ride. She’d had a crawful of being stuck inside yelling at the television news, and was set-jaw determined to do something about it.  Cumberland to DC is 184 miles, most of it in pretty remote country, and if you’d like some space to air out one’s head, it’s a prime location.

In this partnership, when either one of us makes a definitive statement like, “I just gotta go for a long ride,” we both know what that means, and cut each other the space to stretch out until its feels like time to come home. Sweet Doris might prefer pedals to my handful of throttle, but it’s exactly the same urge.

Net/net – freaking great for Sweet D, camping out solo amongst the bears and the bobcats – but I’d apparently lost my pit crew.

I am an engineer – I live to solve problems.

Looking around the garage, I grabbed my trusty Greenspring Dairy milk crate and a mover’s blanket.

I slid the milkcrate under the Toaster’s left cylinder head, folded up the blanket until there were about eight layers of fabric there, and then went back around the right side of the bike and slowly leaned the bike over until the head was resting on the padded crate. I took my hands off, and everything remained in place – the whole amalgam looking for the world like a motorcycle that had decided to fall over and then had a crisis of motivation exactly halfway though. Trying hard not to giggle maniacally, I grabbed the rear tire, steadied the bike by grabbing the lift handle with my left hand, and slid the tire over the drive splines and into place on the hub with my right. I pulled the frame back upright off the crate and sat the bike back down on two nice newly rubbery contact patches.

Green Spring Dairy Work Stand

Please permit me about three and half minutes of feeling pretty smug.

The next five minutes had the rear axle reinstalled, torqued and pinched. I broke out my small rechargeable air compressor and set the proper pressure in both tires. The last five minutes saw the fuel tank put back in place, fastened with its bronze wing nuts, and fuel lines reconnected. I dropped the bike’s toolbox in place and replaced my German police saddle.

It was time to go find some dirt.

 

***

 

My initial response as I rolled out of the driveway was not overwhelmingly positive. The sensation the front tire gave off was one I can only describe as ‘clumsy’ – the steering effort was all off, and lean in and lean out wasn’t linear. At speeds under ten my operation style felt like it was drunk. Now I haven’t ridden on knobbies that I remember since a childhood Honda Trail 90 – the ones with the chunky upper frame bar – and funky low speed handling on pavement might just be a characteristic of riding on dirt purpose tires, but it was definitely different and something that would require some getting used to.

I rambled around my neighborhood, working the bike from side to side, and then stopped down by the park to check that nothing had fallen off or was in danger of doing so.  Having cleared that checklist I turned up the pike and headed for town.

As speeds rode, steering funkiness decreased. It didn’t leave entirely, but things got more normal with increasing velocity. Grace on the pavement wasn’t what I bought these tires for, though. What I’d bought them for was Furnace Mountain Road.

I rolled across the Route 15 Bridge across the Potomac, and hung my customary right into Lovettsville Road. But instead of gassing the bike hard and bombing up the next straight, I made an immediate left that cut straight into the side of the Mountain, that turned immediately to gravel and rose sharply up the face of the grade. I stood up low on the pegs, got my weight just ever so slightly forward, and gave the 900 cc boxer good throttle – blasting up Furnace Mountain Road.

Drive traction was not going to be an issue with the Scouts.

On the gas, using levels of immoderate throttle that previously would have resulted in hairball conditions I had only bite and deterministic and rapid forward motion. About three quarters of the way up the extended grade, I startled an enormous white new Ford F150 and its associated human, who was wrestling a bit with the surface and had probably left a bit less room on the narrow road than we both would have preferred.  With the /5 right in the meat of its torque band, and weight transferred pretty far forward with the shaft drive topped out, I cut hard toward the edge of the road, and with the bike on the gas, it went right where I told it. A half minute later we cleared the top of the grade, and flicked right into the hairball decreasing radius downhill bowl that sits just below the top. The front tire that had me scratching my head on the pavement was working here, brothers and sisters.

Furnace Mountain wanders from the bluffs over the Potomac southwest across the highlands, working in a series of dirt switchbacks – lovely conditions for getting familiar with constantly changing mixtures of acceleration, braking and cornering and a brand new traction model.  After four or five miles in the dirt, Furnace Mountain dumps out in the tiny village of Taylorstown, Virginia.  Taylorstown is tiny enough that there are only two choices for a road out of town, and one called Loyalty Road – which I remembered vaguely continued southwest towards Waterford – got the nod.

All tires actually need some break-in, and after a few miles, the Scouts were starting to show improvement in that process – a blast through the gears up Loyalty Road brought on a much smoother 65 mpg cruise and much more normal feeling cornering dynamics. As I worked my way to the top of the grade, an intersection came into view, with an older, off-road modified Toyota pickup sliding to a stop, visibly trailing dust.  As the street sign came into range, I finally made it out – ‘Featherbed Lane’.

I immediately clicked on my turnsignal and provided a demonstration of the effectiveness of properly adjusted drum brakes.

Within a half second of standing the bike back up again, I knew I’d made the right choice. A short straight led to a nineteenth century iron truss bridge — a type that’s fairly common close to my Maryland home but is somewhat scarcer in Northern Virginia.  The John G. Lewis Memorial Bridge was named for a local historian, and was actually relocated to this location after it was scheduled for demolition when its original location was being modernized. Here on Featherbed Lane though, the old iron truss made a perfect frame for the graded crushed limestone dual track that lead off towards the horizon.

I love old iron truss bridges – in my home Valley they’re usually constructed a fair height above the stream bed they’re crossing, in order to give them a fighting chance of surviving flood events which are perfectly normal in streams like these. For the motorcyclist, though, that height means some kind of steeply sloping ramp, which allows one to flirt with playing Knievel, coming off the top flying, unloading the suspension and then compressing it coming back down.   This temporary aviation is always a thrill, and serves to illustrate my BMW /5’s original engineering use case as an International Six Days Trial prototype competitor, designed to be tractable and predictable in truly unspeakable offroad conditions. Truth be told, BMW’s engineers had done a pretty transparent recycling of Mr. McCandliss’s frame design, so there was a kind of appropriateness for me on this old motorbike, off in search of dirt roads to ride, and serendipitously stumbling on Featherbed Lane.

Even if Sweet Doris from Baltimore did think it was a stupid name.

Catching my equilibrium after the short flight off the bridge deck, Featherbed was serving up long straight stretches with gentle corners as the road threaded the property lines of old and expansive horse farms – checking the satellite maps after my return home even showed a seemingly unused half mile horse racing track tucked unseen inside one of the larger back yards.

Featherbed Lane — See the Flat Track?

I might need to go back and see if I can divine their opinion of Flat Track Motorcycle Racing.

I thonked the /5 up into third gear, and managed to take on a nice 50 to 55 mph cruise – the bike’s long throw suspension working hard and in its element – I had better steering control in the crushed limestone surface than I was accustomed to, and I was getting enough drive traction to lighten the front wheel on the gas.

I’d been spending some of my time quarantined at home rewatching Bruce Brown’s ‘On Any Sunday’, and the mental picture that had most stuck with me was the aerial footage of Malcolm Smith – absolutely hauling ass across Baja, or the Barstow to Vegas desert, or the relative chaos of the Catalina Grand Prix – riding dead smooth, sitting down when anyone else would be standing up, and making every other motorcycle within a hundred miles look like it hadn’t even been started up yet.

If I could just be going another 50 miles an hour faster, I’d be nearly half the way to Malcolm.

Roads like Featherbed should go on forever – but for a road I’d happily stumbled upon – every bit of it was more than enough. I was able to cruise on this crushed limestone road for close to 10 miles – before it dumped me back out about 2 miles out of Lovettsville and the curves of the Berlin Pike back down to the Potomac.  The on-road gap between this bike and my /S had grown a bit – I found myself thinking that it might be time to retire the ‘S’ bars that I put on this motorcycle when it was being used as a faired sport tourer in favor of some dirty bike bars with a little more width and a little more rise.

I was back across the river and in the Valley before I was ready.  I had one more detour in my reverse GPS that I could take to keep from getting home too soon.

Not everybody has a great stream ford on their back yard. Sorry about that, everybody else.

Siegler Road cuts off from Fry Road – south of Jefferson – and pops up on Horine Road about a half mile from Shamieh’s Shop.  Siegler is about a mile and a half of gravel that climaxes at a local creek where a bridge seemed excessive. My old Avons used to skate a bit on the polished stones of the stream bottom – these Heidenaus seemed like they rode on octopus tentacle suckers – on wet stones they were absolutely nailed down.

Crossing the creek was so much fun and so undramatic it was the sort of thing one just wanted to do again and again.

I didn’t though – didn’t want any of my neighbors to think I’d finished cracking, riding back and forth roosting across a stream all day.

I popped around the corner, into my hood, and rolled up the driveway and onto the stand.

The Scouts, at least, had acquired enough rock dust and mud that no one would think that this was a motorcycle that didn’t get ridden.

Rock Dust and Knobs

 

Actually, based on the patterns of contact and wear that my body and boots have worn into 36 years of riding this motorcycle, nobody would ever even consider the possibility this bike didn’t get ridden.

After a few minutes admiring the form of this old motorcycle, I headed inside to look for some dirtbike bars.

 

***

 

I purchased my BMW R/75 motorcycle on an epic train-and-ride over an Independence Day Weekend in 1984. It seems to be a motorcycling story that has no end. Folks that want to catch up with the beginning of the tale can find it here.

Happy Independence Day, sisters and brothers. 

Elemental

There’s some truth to the notion that having to do a thing can suck all of the joy out of that doing.

I usually hear the concept bandied about in the context of folks that, after a long time dreaming about making one’s living, say, in the motorcycle business, get to the other side of the fence and discover that that grass is actually spray-painted concrete.

My current context, though, is somewhat different.

Much of my riding lately has been riding I have to do.

Commuting miles.  Even some of the motorcycling testing miles. These miles have felt…outcome oriented. Too much about watching the instrumentation, about managing adverse conditions, about pushing to get everywhere faster. Too much about the getting there and not enough about the ride — about being there in the moment.

It is not the way that riding is supposed to be.

 

***

 

Sunday afternoons, though, are different.

I’d slept late, done some puttering about, and run a few necessary errands.

And there was still some sun left up in the sky.

Sweet Doris from Baltimore has been feeling under the weather lately – fighting a stubborn cold that just won’t give it up. As the task queue seemed clear, she asked me if I wanted to take a ride.

Does the Pope….skip it.

I was out in the garage flipping on the charge power bus about a half minute later.

I gathered gear appropriate for a classic motorcycle – bereft of rider aides, e-trickery and any pretense of creature comforts – on a 45 degree, breezy, sunny day. Out of the closet came my Roadcrafter, a light fleece, and a pair of Scorpion insulated gauntlets – they’re challenging to get on, and the dexterity doesn’t compare favorably with my favorite elkskins (that I can use year round with a bike with heated grips),  but on a day like this they’re the only hammer for this particular nail.

I needn’t have worried about waking the S up from several weeks of winter slumber – she spun over hard on the starter and fired on the third compression stroke, just as she always has. With a crankcase full of cold 20w-50, though, there was a bit more top end clatter and a bit more resistance to coming to a solid idle than normal – I left the Dell’Ortos’ enricheners, which are kind of like small firehoses for gasoline, turned on for nearly a minute. Finally, I was able to  slowly slide them off and give the bike a few blips of the throttle to clear out the carb throats and get these race carbs to as close to good idle as they ever get. While the S was demonstrating better manners than usual by continuing to run without stalling, I wrestled my gloves on – managing two Velcro straps, one for the wrist and another for the gauntlet – and managing to get the Roadcrafter’s substantial cuffs inside the gauntlets.

The first glove – working with one’s other hand bare – is not so bad.

The second one, though – one now has a glove on that other hand – is, well, so bad.

Having done the serpent contortionist’s gauntlet boogaloo, though, it was finally time to ride.

This particular old German twin is really a beast of an engine. It takes time to warm to operating temperature – running rich as they do and having such inherently good cooling – that on a blustery winter’s day it takes a few miles before rings tighten up, cylinder heads and oil get to temperature, and – with the S’s Dell’Orto slides and the lengthened aluminum intake manifolds actually having enough heat in them to properly vaporize fuel.  Having gone through that process though, one quickly realizes that a cool day such as this was exactly what it was designed for. Give this motor a cold, dense, intake airstream, and it makes as much power as it will ever make. It might be a 45 year old motorcycle carrying more than 140,000 miles, but at 6000 rpm in third gear, the 45 years of motorcycle development that followed it don’t matter a whit – it’s a tire sliding, wheel lifting monster that rings the rider’s entire skeleton like a bell with every power stroke from that motor.

Watch Out For Those Bumps. Eugene

Arnoldtown Road is one of Frederick County’s gifts to motorcycle riders. It starts off at Gathland State Park at Crampton’s Gap – a stop on the Appalachian Trail where it works its way across the east range of the Blue Ridge.  Arnoldtown drops though mature pines – it’s shady, cool, and often damp, mossy or slippery — down the side of the mountain, crosses Mountain Church Road and then breaks back out into the sunshine where it runs down the foothill slope towards fertile farmland and the stream bottom where the road and stream intertwine.

The run down the foothills is trickier than it looks – each of the corners on the way down has its apex on the top of a rise – a bit too much enthusiasm and a bit too little roadcraft could have one inadvertently adventure riding in one big hurry.

My tires, though, were warm – my muscles and joints loose – my focus was at its sharpest. Coming out of the shade and into the sunlight I moved myself forward on the bike and prepared for the corners to come.

The first corner is a gentle right off the top of a rise – I apexed late and cut hard toward the inside and got the slides of the Dell’Ortos rising early. The S came off the apex with its front wheel gently rising free of the pavement – carrying a few yards on one wheel and then settling back down almost imperceptibly.     The second corner is a left which I set up by getting all the way onto the right stripe, again rolling open the throttle and coming off the apex with the S pulling its front wheel off the pavement and settling back down.

The final corner is a tighter right – I adjusted my line one last time to correct for the time with my steerable wheel doing its best to reduce treadwear and came off the apex with one last power wheelie. Being a long straight leading down to the bottoms there was lots of room and lots of runoff so I just stayed on the throttle until putting the front back down started to seem like a compellingly good idea. I gave a little throttle back and the front set back down with nary a wiggle.

Three corners, three power wheelies in the space of 9 seconds or so – I could hear Neal Peart in my head – he’s been taking up residence there lately — running one of his large mathematically precise drum breaks in my head – a big fast run down the toms followed by a big splash cymbal – that pattern repeating three times in a row.

Charging towards the far side of The Bottoms – where the corners that follow the stream are far tighter and more technical – I couldn’t help but grin in my helmet. Four decades plus on the road, air cooling, pushrods, carburetors, a steel tube featherbed frame, saddlecases and bias tires couldn’t do anything to make this less of a peak rider’s rock and roll road dancing moment.

Ride however, whatever, and wherever you want. It’s the shining grace of road moments like these, though, that are pure riding joy for me.

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.

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.

WP_20171027_11_55_33_Pro

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.

WP_20171028_12_30_45_Pro (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

Finn and Greg Ride to Joe’s

I hate it when I run out of summer.

No matter how many times I try to avoid it, summer’s end sneaks up on me, leaving me feeling like there’s a million things I should have done, 100,000 motorcycle rides I should have taken, a thousand camping trips that got away, with another year’s worth of Hollywood Calendar leaves flying off the screen and into the irredeemable past.

Some things are too important to let go, though.

Finn and I have taken our share of little backroad scratches together — little 40 minute vacations of road schooling, of boy bonding time.

I kept talking to him about ‘a trip’.

It didn’t have to be a long trip.

It would of necessity at least be one with frequent breaks as Finn’s single gets about 60 miles per gallon and struggles to carry a gallon and a half of gas.

But to have a trip you have to have some semblance of a destination, or at least the willingness to head this way over here without one.

I looked at motorcycle races and vintage museums but nothing seemed to fit the bill.

Finn hadn’t done any extended riding on the Interstate, and I really wanted to try and avoid that when possible.

We’d spent a lot of time this summer wrenching on the little Buell, fixing our home’s deck and camping out, but one day a look at the calendar showed about three Saturdays left before Finn headed back to College Park.

It was go or don’t go, so I did something uncharacteristically bold.

 

***

 

I look at the Craigslist Motorcycle for Sale Ads the way some people probably look at porn.

I got started while I was looking for a bike for Finn.

But now I just can’t stop.

The listings are a mechanical menagerie of Thoroughbreds and Mongrels, a museum gallery split between some Constantin Brancusis and seeming random piles of welded rusted chainsaws and drive sprockets.

The constant laugh of surprise, the sigh of newly discovered Moto Lust is endlessly entertaining.

While lately engaged in my demented little hobby, a certain pattern revealed itself to me.

While skipping through the Western Maryland listings, I started to sense a thin veneer of discernment and taste starting to take shape on top of the endless piles of butchered Harleys, wadded dirt bikes, and Things-That-We-Found-In-There,  those Things-We-Are-Sure-That-Ran-When-We-Parked-Them.

In Seventy Eight, I think it was.

Anyway, in amongst the debris, there were jewels.

A perfect, low mileage MotoGuzzi Norge, in Of Course It’s Red It’s Italian.

A first year of production Triumph 900 Sprint. Again, perfect. In British Racing Green.

A matched pair of Suzuki VX800s. Perfectly maintained, intelligently modified good runners. Both of them.

An MZ Silver Star, with an OHC 4 Valve Rotax air cooled 500 Single.

A 400 cc Suzuki Bandit. Again, modded, maintained, running, perfect.

There was a Ducati or two, and some other stuff, who can remember?

Is it hot in here or is it just me?

The pictures, though, put it together for me. All the pictures…. deep green treed location, gravel driveway, pole ag-style building … these listings were all the same guy. The same guy was selling all of these cool bikes.

My dumb-butt mode slow thinking big amperage relay slowly bzzzzzted and slammed closed.

“If he’s selling all these bikes…..my God…. What….Is….He…..KEEEEEPING?”

 

***

 

Which brings me back to right where I was doing something uncharacteristically bold.

I responded to one of the ads.

Hi!

My name is Greg Shamieh, and I have incurable motorcycle illness.

I recognize you as a fellow sufferer. …”

I went on to tell the seller I thought he had great taste in bikes, and that but for Fair-haired Son In College Here, I would likely have already showed up at the bottom of his driveway with my Pickup Truck and A Peachbasket Full of Hundreds.

And I told him — at least I assumed it was a him — about Rolling Physics Problem, and Invited Myself Over.

And then sat by my computer and waited.

 

***

 

The answer didn’t take long.

When I was still in formal schooling, I had a writing teacher who was a retired bigtime Television executive.

Dr. B provided the following guidance, which was completely consistent with his prior employment.

“If you have a grabby opening, the rest will take care of itself. If you don’t have one, the rest doesn’t matter.”

Time and again, that has proved to be Wisdom.

An e-mail popped up in my inbox.

“Hi, my name is Joe, and I am a motorcycle addict. I never get to any of the other steps in the twelve step program, though.”

Looked like we had a classic meeting of the minds.

 

***

 

So Joe and I traded a few e-mails.

I told him straight up I was looking for a destination before Finn went back to school.

Joe seemed to know exactly when that was, which seemed significant, even if I didn’t exactly know why.

And as we talked back and forth, it began to seem like Joe and Finn had some shared tastes. Joe was a member in good standing of of the Four Stroke Singles National Owners Club — Finn was a Buell Blast rider.

Of course, Joe had come by his credentials honestly. He’d even organized a ride known as the Coast-to-Coast Tiddlers Tour (C2CTT) where he and his wife, Carol, had crossed the country and returned (Alive!) on a matched pair of Honda CBR 250s.

Finn, on the other hand, while having a built-in bias for singles — he’s started out wanting to find a nice used Enfield Bullet, or perhaps a Yamaha XT400 — had been signed up for Blast Love by an Old Man who had exhibited an uncharacteristic lack of concern for all of the things folks had told him which generally threw shade at the Harley Sportster-based single. Still, despite the fragility of tune the bike had demonstrated, Finn seemed to have bonded with it anyway.

Then, there was the small matter of stickers.

Joe shared a story with me about his R1100GS, and the minor disagreement it had had with a deer. The deer had demonstrated its displeasure by placing two or three substantial hoof dents in the R1100’s tank. Joe, being a man of practical and somewhat situational frugal bent, decided that form did not affect function, so strategically put some stickers over the worst damage.

The stickers, to Joe’s eye, looked lonesome. So he put a few more on to keep the first ones company. And, like a lot of folks I know, once he got into the habit he just couldn’t help himself.

There is a little of the stock red paint showing on that tank, but one needs to work a little to find some.

And it would be one thing if Joe had stopped when he ran out of R1100 tank. But that was just the jumping off point.

Joe, as you recall, had A LOT of motorcycles. Most, but not all, of them were also festooned with stickers from fantail to bowsprit, windshields, top cases and panniers to boot. I’d even find out that it didn’t stop there, but let me try and move the narrative along here.

Finn, too, had developed a singular need to sticker something — in this case, the carrying case for his Epiphone Firebird Electric Bass. The Firebird is the longest scale electric bass ever mass-produced, and as a result has the longest case of any electric instrument. We’re talking billboard sized, Twin-Towers Drive-In Movie Screen size ridiculous.

If you are going to try and cover such a thing with stickers, Bud, you are really going to have to work at it.

Of course I’d been willing to help out wherever I could. “Shoei”, “Aerostich”, “Vintage Iron Motorcycle Club”, “Ace Cafe” — I was on the hunt for Finn stickers whenever I was on motorcycle walkabout.

What’s the likelihood you know two different guys with the same adhesive obsession?

Not much, I’d wager.

After the exchange of numerous e-mails, we settled on a particular time, and then addressed our kind entreaties to the Gods of Weather that we’d get a nice riding day.

 

***

 

The Gods delivered bigtime for us that Saturday morning.

As Finn and I grabbed coffee and breakfast, we had a clear, crisp spring morning that was wandering around lost in the beginning of August. It was about 67 degrees and sunny in Jefferson, and we’d lose a few degrees as we climbed in altitude while motoring westward.

After finishing my coffee, we geared up and headed for the garage.

Joe’s place is in Little Orleans, Maryland, about 75 miles or so west of Jefferson. Given the rivers and mountains in the way, there are about a million different ways up there and none of them straight. If you think to yourself that this makes it a perfect place to which to ride a motorcycle, you’d be spot on. I’d had more than a few meandering routes up there that quickly expired in the face of Finn’s lack of urgency in getting himself up and ready to go in the morning. Hey, anything that has Finn fully operational before noon probably is urgency, but never mind that.

In the face of our lack of alacrity, I made a necessary adjustment. Whereas Buell Blast Touring is probably best experienced off the Interstate, we’d need to make up for lost time by using Interstate 70 to make quicker work of Frederick and Washington Counties, and then jumping off onto Scenic US Route 40 as we climbed up the ridgelines that separate central and western Maryland.

In about 18 months of street riding, Finn hadn’t had the opportunity for much Interstate Highway point-to-point travel, but there’s a time and place for everything, and this was the time. As I had tried to do with every step in his riding education, I’d try to provide information, guidance and room to learn.

We shared a gas pump and took on a few gallons of high test – Finn his maximum load of about a gallon and a half, and my R90S about five and half, and then diced up Holter Road towards I-70 and the mountains of Western Maryland.

 

***

 

Holter Road is near the top of my list of favorite roads. Holter slices through the Middletown Valley — the land rises on either side of the road as it snakes through the Valley’s center — and with long sightlines and sweeping corners, it’s a wonderful place to warm the sides of one’s tires and see if your ‘A Game’ is going to make an appearance this riding day.

As my R90 and Finn’s Blast made our way north towards the distant ridge, and our route west, it was made apparent to me that my choice of ventilated gear — a set of mesh armored overpants and my Vanson Supermoto jacket, might have been a tad excessively hopeful. Some of the shaded spots along the road were downright chilly — downright weird for Maryland in mid-August. We’d be climbing about 2500 feet in elevation as we worked our way west, which meant I was dressed right for conditions at about 3 pm. Shame it was closer to 10. I’m personally well insulated — I’d tough it out.

Still, between the bright sunshine, the crisp breeze, and overall spookily cool temperatures, its hard to imagine a better start to a riding day. With my son Finn carving crisply on the other end of the string out on the road behind me — the exhaust bark of his big single distinctly audible in the sonic seams of the old boxer’s basso drone — it was hard to think anything other than right now, all was right with the world.

We beat our way from corner to corner up the length of The Valley, first into Middletown, and then following Maryland 17 up to Myersville. 17 has some great corners — a massive colonial property line 90/90 of the largest radius I can recall — where the road goes around a prosperous, modern farm — and lots of tighter more technical stuff as the road runs the ridgeline up the grade towards the Interstate. These old technology motors — big, aircooled cylinders, two valve pushrod overhead valve setups — really love the cool air, and one can tell. One gets denser intake charge, and running cool they rev better. On corner exits both bikes take well to big throttle, booming out, front wheels lightened, making some joyful noise.

As we make the left onto I-70 I indicate a stop. The ramp there is a major entrance, with a wide apron to allow tractor trailers to stop and set a spell. I leave room for Finn to pull to a stop inside me.

“Ok, Dude. I’m going to let you lead. Find whatever speed works for you and The Blast, and I’ll adjust. We’ll be doing this for a little while so you should do what’s comfortable. We ride in a stagger on the Interstate — tighter than on backroads, but still a sensible distance apart. I’ll demonstrate. I’ll run tail gunner and try and keep the Vehicular Aggression Society off your 6.

We’ll take 70 up to Hancock, where we’ll exit onto I-68. As soon as we get up there we’ll exit onto Scenic US 40, which is a total peach of a mountain road.

You good?”

I got a steely nod, and a visor slapping shut.

After a look over his shoulder, Finn klocked The Blast into gear, and rolled up the ramp, leaving everything behind bathed in sound.

I followed behind, as we rolled though the gears, winding every one out, as we made our way up the giant grade that is 70 West coming out of Myersville.

 

***

 

Working one’s way west in Maryland is an adventure in successive mountain grades. Crossing Frederick, Washington, Allegheny and finally Garrett Counties, one hits ridgeline after ridgeline, climbing continuously as one works one’s way west.

Now I’ll take a brief pause here, to allow my friends who live in the American West to catch their breaths and stop laughing, slain at the thoughts of our 3500 foot ‘mountains’, but if it has switchbacks, and big grades I must climb, it sure seems like mountains to me, OK?

The first one is South Mountain, and it’s what we’re climbing the back of as we work our way up to speed. After a mile or two of steep climb — semis falling back sharply in their climbing lane — Finn and I hit the top and break back into bright, bright sunshine and a breathtaking view down the steep long descent down the other side dropping into Washington County. He adopts about a 67 mile an hour cruise, which is below the power in the bike’s top gear. It’s as unstressed and quiet as the now hot-rodded single can manage. If every bike has a sweet spot where it channels its inner touring bike, this, apparently, is the Blast’s.

We adopt an easy, easy cruise across the county, through Hagerstown, and onto the long shallow 25 mile climb towards Allegheny County and the next set of mountains. Finn quickly demonstrates he’s comfortable out here in slabland, just as he has with every new motorcycle experience we’ve thrown at him.

Or at least as comfortable as the Blast’s rudimental saddle will permit.

It’s a good thing this initial snack size motorcycle trip isn’t some sort of big mile monster. Don’t want too much, too soon — these things take time.

And before I can overthink it, we’re rolling into Hancock, and the I-68 cut off. Just west of town I-68 takes off towards the sky again, as we hit our next Mountain, which is inexplicably called Sideling Hill.

Hill nomenclature notwithstanding, Sideling Hill is a mountain, and a pretty spectacular one at that. Highway engineers, when the Interstate went in, looked at the route they’d have to work with if they wanted to take a big road over it, and came up with an alpine route that covered somewhere between twelve and eighteen miles. So after a thoughtful scratching of the head, they blew the top clean off the mountain, and cut it down to four of the steepest runaway truck ramp filled miles I’ve ever seen on the interstate.

It turned out the inside of the mountain that they removed was some of the prettiest geology you will ever see, which makes losing the mountain almost worth it. The rock cut revealed a massive syncline of mixed sandstones and shales, which looks like a picture of an upside down mountain hidden within the mountain. Its a spectacular, jaw dropping place in and of itself, but that’s not the only reason it speaks to me.

I used to have a riding bud named Paul. Paul, who is riding better roads now, was a rider’s rider, a gentleman’s gentleman, and one of the inexplicably humble men I have ever known. Paul was prone to things like calling out at work because he’d decided to ride to Montana for lunch. Paul’s last motorcycle had a BMW 1,000,000 mile badge, and he lived and rode like that until the week he quit our roads for smoother ones.

Paul, while prone to spontaneity, was also a creature of habit. Whenever he set off on a really big ride, he had a favorite place to start it, and that was to greet the dawn from Sideling Hill. There is a parking lot in the center of the cut, that allows you to see the mountain within the mountain as well as the rising sun. Such a view from such a place places one in the mind of just how small one really is, and gives one a reminder of who’s really running the show.

Its is good to be fully cognizant of one’s insignificance in the universe before the prideful act of vaporizing continents from the saddle of a motorcycle. I have to think of Paul being up there just to make sure his head and his heart were fully in the game.

So I never approach this mountain without a sense of wonder, and of revery, and a sense of being in the presence of the big spirit of my friend.

 

***

 

Interstate 68 was intended to replace US 40 – the Old National Pike – through the Maryland Mountains. The Pike was too steep, and too twisty to enable modern commerce, so the big slab went in to modernize and streamline the route. Just like Route 66 runs in the shadow of Interstate 40, so runs Scenic 40 eclipsed by Interstate 68.

Of course, being Bikers, the very reasons that US 40 was replaced are the very reasons we’d most want to ride it, so at the very first chance to leave the slab Finn and I promptly bailed.

Immediately upon leaving I-68 the whole world slowed. The surface of 40 was deliberately abraded — they get a fair amount of snow up here and traction seemed to be the goal. We were beating our way up the mountain old school, the hard way, with seemingly endless strings of short straights and switchbacks. Except for minding some loose macadam in the bellies of the switchbacks it was a 10/10s rider’s blast.

As we neared the cut at the mountain’s peak, there is really only one way over, so 40 dumped us back on the Interstate, and then took us off again in a mile and a bit on the other side. As Finn and I carved down the back side of Sideling Hill, we had clearly made the leap into Western Maryland — trees were greener, larger and more plentiful, buildings were older, and one could plainly see just looking that the pace of life had slowed down two gears.

The more 40 we did the more that we liked it. It was getting to the point where getting to Joes was almost unwanted.

I’d memorized Joe’s street name and the road that ran to it before we’d left Jefferson. I knew basically where I was going even if I was a little weak on the details. When Orleans Road came up, I took it, and having a choice between a right and a left, predictably, I blew it.

Finn and I found ourselves running a nicely groomed pea-gravel road, running the ridgeline through beautiful, fertile green working farms. When five or six miles up the road I came to a ‘Welcome to Pennsylvania’ sign, my loss in the 50-50 was apparent, so I signaled a stop with my elkskin gloved hand.

“Sorry about that, Snorky. We had a choice between a right and a left, and I shoulda made the left.”

“No problem, Pop. With roads like this and views like this, you can make all the wrong turns you want.”

I love that boy.

 

***

 

As we backtracked in the right direction, Finn indicated he was out of gas. An Exxon station miraculously appeared, and we went big, buying about 4 bucks worth.

Rolling again we came pretty much immediately to Joe’s road. I immediately felt that weird familiarity, realizing I’d been down this road before when my family and friends had camped in an isolated unimproved campground down at the end overlooking a spectacular bend in the river.

We felt our way slowly along the road, until I saw the ‘Gilmore’ on the mailbox. Finn and I turned in, slid up the gravel drive, and killswitched and side standed the bikes in front of the large Pole Building at the end of the drive.

Welcome to Joe’s.

***

 

The first time laid eyes on him, I knew I was going to like Joe.

It was kind of like looking in a mirror with dirty glasses — there might be persistent evidence of a few more good porters enjoyed, and a little more beard, heck a little more hair, generally, but it was kind of like encountering a brother you didn’t know you had.

If this was a beauty contest, though, let’s be frank — there’d be no winners. Best either one of us could hope for was Miss Congeniality.

“I’d just about given up on you guys, it’s nearly time to go for a ride…..”

“Sorry Joe. Between being lazy, slow and lost, it just took a lot more time than I’d anticipated.

Can we get the tour of the garage?”

So we stepped inside.

 

***

 

Joe’s Garage is a steel skinned pole constructed building — common enough hereabouts in farm country. But where most pole buildings aspire to be some form of Tractor’s Nirvana, Joe’s was clearly designed with something else in mind. Wrapped with workbenches, equipped with an industrial hydraulic vehicle lift, and back in the dim recesses, a loft — filled with moto luggage, leathers and boxes of spares — that sat just high enough to allow motorcycles to fit underneath.

There were motorcycles everywhere.

When it comes to collecting, some people are specialists.

Joe appeared to have no easily discernible biases or brand loyalties. Joe just liked what Joe liked, and didn’t much care if anybody could hang or not.

For what its worth, what Joe liked tended to be pretty righteous, but let me not get ahead of myself.

As we walked though the door into the shop, the Triumph Sprint I’d seen advertised was sitting immediately inside. This big triple looked to be a fairly early example of the first Hinckley Triumphs — their premanufacturing design consultations with Kawasaki clearly visible — the power unit in this motorcycle was simple, robust, brutal in its appearance. There was no question who they were hoping would buy this motorcycle. It was painted British Racing Green — its cockpit fairing finished off with an endurance racing style twin round headlamp setup — and the ‘Triumph’ script was florid, dangerously close to exaggerated — just a tiniest bit too large. With the exception of some performance exhaust canisters, the bike looked as clean and tidy as the day it rolled off the line.

Snap the bike’s hard cases on, fill up the tank and make that big triple howl until you arrived in, say, Brazil.

I could easily see how, with the proper resources, I’d buy that bike if the opportunity presented itself.

Which, of course is how Joe got all of them, and why this garage was such a supremely dangerous place.

On the other side of the Sprint was a BMW F650 — one of the earliest Rotax-engined examples. Bike with stories to tell and many miles under their wheels have a well used look about them, and this bike had clearly been some places. And maybe a few more places. Dirt, insect bits and road mung spoke of tens of thousands of tough miles.

Indicating in that direction, Joe said, “That one’s Carol’s” referring to his wife and occasional partner in moto-foolery.

“That one does have patina. It took a few shots on a trip Carol and I took out to Montana. I looked out behind me on one corner exit and she wasn’t there anymore.

I turned around and went back and found her where she’d run off, and she’d gone down an embankment. She was a little beat up, but nobody was riding this bike back to Maryland. I made sure she was ok, got her settled and then I just went and rented a truck. Got this bike loaded and figured I might as well load mine too … there was no reason for one of us to drive the truck and the other ride.

Do you know there are three ways you can drop a motorcycle trying to load it into a truck?”

I am not Einstein but I do understand the Universe when it sends me the signs of a story that is just about to turn south and gas it.

“First way is to push it up, run out of momentum and drop it off the ramp on yourself. Second way is to ride it up the ramp, run out of momentum and drop the bike and yourself off the ramp too. Third way is to ride it up the ramp, not run out of momentum, and plant it in the front of the truck.

That’s the way I picked that day.

Somebody that rented the truck before us had been carrying grain, and the entire floor of the truck was covered with dust.. I hit the brakes…. nothing… it made quite the dent.

The Indigenous Nation Constable that took our Police Report clearly had an opinion about the two roadrashed and beat looking visitors to The Nation, but he worked hard to keep it to himself.

It was a very quiet ride back from Montana.”

 

***

 

Working our way deeper into the shop we came upon a brand new, matching pair of Suzuki VanVans. Matching, of course, being one for Joe and another one for Carol. If you have never seen a VanVan, its difficult to know how to describe it to you. Best I can manage is that its sort of the mini-dirtbike equivalent of one of those balloon tired, beach cruiser bicycles. It has a 200 cc four-stroke single motor, hugely oversize balloon tires, the squishyiest, most comfortable-appearing saddle you’ve ever seen off a GoldWing, all wrapped around a half size classic dirtbike chassis.

If there was ever an unthreatening, all round fun playbike — equally comfortable on the beach or in the woods — the VanVan would have to be it.

“I sold a pair of Honda Trail 90s this morning, before you showed up. In the Green Ridge ORV areas, they were fun, but just not enough. These, though, should be fine. haven’t taken ’em out yet, though.”

Joe looked pensive.

“I have sold 10 motorcycles in the last 90 days and I still have toooo many motorcycles.”

On a service lift in front of us, sat a disassembled MZ Silver Star. Something utterly terrible had clearly befallen its final drive — bits of rubber cush drive, a drive sprocket, and aluminium fragments that had formerly been the drive hub were dispersed across a wide area. Clearly when this had gone ‘boom’ it had gone ‘boom’ in a big way.

The Silver Star had an earlier version of the Rotax single than was in the BMW — this was a belt driven overhead cam air-cooled four valver. I’d actually considered this bike for Finn, until I discovered that despite its technological sophistication, a longevity-enhancing detuning had limited this motor to exactly the same 34 horsepower made by the stone axe-vintage motor in the Blast. 34 horsepower is 34 horsepower no matter how you slice it, and if you need to fix your bike, do you want to try and find a Harley Davidson dealer, or an MZ Dealer?

Yeah. Thought so.

Joe and Carol’s matching CBR 250s were next — these were the bikes they’d taken to the West Coast and back on the C2CTT. Both bikes looked well enough prepped to clear racetrack Tech Inspection — spotless with not a drop of anything out of place.

In the back corner of the shop was Joe’s UR-R1100GS, The Deerslayer, alternately known as the Mother Of All Stickers (MOAS). It looked a lot like my R75 — seeps of motor oil and gear oil mixed with rock dust and mud. This was no pretty little girl bike, this was a bike that got used, and got used hard.

I didn’t have the heart to tell Joe about my Internet BMW Riders friend, Brian Curry, who had ridden his K75RT, two-up, through a pair of deer, killing them both and leaving both himself and his passenger uninjured. For this, the imposing 5 foot tall hunnert pounds with his Aerostich on figure of Brian became The Deerslayer.

Since we’re not out of deer yet, I suppose there is room in this universe for two of them.

On another service lift was on of my personal favorites, a Honda Pacific Coast. On first blush the Pacific Coast looks like a K1200LT that someone left in the clothes dryer too long, inducing shrinkage. The basic elements of the motorcycle — the curved front fairing and windshield, the bodywork integrated crash bars, the integrated, aerodynamic side and top cases – all look like they came from the same pen.

What’s under the Honda’s plastic, though, is typical oddball Honda-think.

Underneath the plastic was the first generation water-cooled Honda V-twin — an engine architecture it shared with the Shadow cruisers, the Ascot tracker, and the TransAlp and AfricaTwin dual sports. These engines were offset crankpin twins, that looked like Vs but fired like an 270 degree engine – with dual plugs, three valves per cylinder, and hydraulically adjusted valves. All these engines needed to keep them running was clean oil and gas. In the Pacific Coast, one couldn’t even see the engine. It was a recipe for minimized drama and high levels of reliability.

The single most abused, highest mileage running example of any motorcycle of I am aware of is a Pacific Coast. Its owner, an AdventureRiders board inmate known as Vermin, had taken two-up tour of a lifetime from Detroit to San Diego, with a bike whose running condition looked so marginal at the time that the betting line was running heavily against the bike, known as Cack, even making it to California.

Once there, Vermin flew home, and stored the bike at his in-laws’.

Through machinations lost in the mists of Internet forum time, somehow Vermin ended up lending Cack to another AdventureRider, for another inadvisable and Quixotic journey.

Once home, that Rider then passed the bike and its key to another fresh pilot.

And so the bike ended up being essentially passed from hand to hand, where it became the linked ingredient of multiple long, arduous continent-swallowing rides.

I seem to even remember someone taking the Cack up the Haul Road.

The bike that looked like it would never survive even one adventure, somehow survived them all.

A tupperware wrapped, hatchback clamshell trunk like a Civic, overgrown scooter appearing endurance monster of a motorcycle.

A Honda Pacific Coast.

So yeah, anyone that chooses to have one of these has likely done so because they’re in on the secret. And any time I lay eyes on one it plays all those stories back.

Joe peered into the PC’s plastic innards, and at the mylar and foam wrapped motor that one so rarely even saw.

“I’ve got a carburetor rebuild kit for this — jets, seals and floats — should be great when I’m done. It’s next in line. It’s always something, you know?

It’s why I’m selling bikes. Simplify”

Behind the PC was a flash of red.

It was the MotoGuzzi Norge I’d become so irrationally attracted to.

If an R12RT was sexy, it would be a Norge. Where the RT is hard edged, the Norge is sensually curved. In the middle of it all, there’s that big 90 degree Guzzi twin, wrapped in fairings that let the cylinder heads protrude though. In keeping with the modern Italian habit of big port engine turning, the Norge has exhaust headers the size of your leg, the curvature of which is enough to make one swoon.

Well, it makes me swoon anyway.

If I owned such a bike, with a well-appointed, high-speed capable cockpit, I should likely head straight away to Montana, and therein, according to Joe, lies precisely the problem.

“If you breakdown with this in Missoula, the nearest MotoGuzzi dealer is a looooooooooong way away…”

And like the Beauty Queen who shattered one’s illusions the minute she began to speak, all of a sudden that Guzzi didn’t seem quite so attractive as it had just seconds before.

 

***

 

As we strolled out of the shop back out towards the light, my eye was drawn to what was apparently Joe’s shop beer fridge. Like many objects Joe, this one was enthusiastically stickered. Stickered, in fact almost excessively, even by Joe standards.

As I tried to drink it all in, Joe slid a binder filled with his sticker collection over to Finn and encouraged him to help himself to anything that struck his fancy. Lots did.

“It’s a 1930’s Philco. Found it sitting in an old farmhouse. It was the first ‘fridges sold in America that didn’t have the condenser coils sitting in the big cylinder up on top of the fridge — they’d figured out you could move the condenser to the lower section. This one had an envelope on the back with the bill of sale from the original store that sold it in Hagerstown, delivering it to the family we bought it from via the US Postal Service!

We bought it for nearly nothing, trucked it back here, plugged it in…” said Joe as he opened the door and reached in for a cold one and to offer me one, “…keeps the beer cold. Works good, it was just a little rusty, so stickers.”

One had to admit, stickers.

And the more one looked at the fridge, the more there was to look at. Racy ’40s Pin Up Girls. Politically incorrect sentiments. Motorcycle and motorcycle racing promos from every era and every country. Pictures of a younger Joe, lapping a racetrack at speed. It was like the legendary Chinese porcelline… it just pulled one in with endless unknown and unknowable mysteries.

But any fridge that has a Hunter S. Thompson magnet, containing his wisdom, “I’d hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”, is certainly an OK fridge by me.

 

***

 

As we walked back out into the sunshine, Joe turned to the right, and approached a third garage door that had initially escaped my attention. This door lead into an Amish-built garage — also common hereabouts. There garages are built on a series of 4 x 4 timbers, and are typically installed on a leveled gravel pad by simply sliding them — via the beveled 4 x 4 skids that they sit on — off the back of a flatbed truck trailer right into the position where they will be used. I have a garden shed that is built like this, and I know of at least one independent motorcycle mechanic that has his shop in a larger one.

Joe, apparently, had run out of space in his substantial pole barn, and had had to improvise.

Inside, there was a car — however nice it may have been, we’re not here to talk about cars — and another half-dozen or so motorcycles. As always, Joe’s discernment and good moto-taste were on full display. First, there was a matched pair of Yamaha SRX 600 Super Singles. The matched pair thing, if you havn’t picked up on it by now, is the ultimate Joe Moto-endorsement — bikes that Joe likes, he buys one of, bikes that Joe really likes are bikes that Carol should have one of as well, so Joe buys two. Like any of Joe’s matched pairs, both bikes were in perfect mechanical and cosmetic condition, and looked like the day they rolled off the line.

The Super Single was pretty much the ultimate development of the air-cooled single-powered sport bike. An Overhead cam, 4 valve head with two barrel carburetor driving a narrow steel perimeter frame stopped by triple disk brakes. The SRX was clearly aimed at serious, quirky enthusiasts, because there were very few street motorcycles sold in 1986 that were kickstart only. These bikes were nimble backroad weapons — looking at Joe’s pair it seemed like the typical Yamaha flat-topped racing style tank was no more than 8 inches wide. From the rider’s perspective these machines were almost more like bicycles than the motorcycles I know well — but for going around corners its hard to imagine anything better.

Also in the barn was a pair of Honda NX650 Dominators. Like many things Honda, the NX650 was a true dual sport motorcycle from a period in time — 1988 – 2000 — before most people knew what dual sports were. Made 10 years later, these would have been sales leaders, but in one of those repeating Honda stories, they were so far ahead of their time, that consumers were perplexed instead of amazed.

Joe’s NXs were beaters — clearly used offroad and appropriately dumped in the dirt from time to time. They were mechanically sound but far from pretty.

Joe, Finn and myself made our way back into the driveway and grabbed a set of folding lawn chairs.

As we sat down, Joe grinned and handed me a business card. From Frostburg State University – part of the University Of Maryland System.

Well, that explained why Joe — or perhaps more correctly Dr. Gilmore — knew exactly when Finn’s classes started. Professor Joe knew when classes started because that was exactly how long he had left to ride before he had to go back to work.

I asked Joe how he’d become a College Professor.

And he told me a story about an Administrator from Frostburg calling him to ask if he could cover for a Business Accounting course for which the University had unexpectedly found itself without a professor. Joe had been working as a CPA at the time, but graciously agreed, just to help them out.

Well, to cut to that chase Joe discovered he enjoyed teaching, he liked working with young people, and The Young People and The University seemed to like him, too.

So it just sorta stuck.

“And of course, the ten or eleven weeks to ride every summer isn’t bad either.

This year coming up is my last year. Then it will all be riding time.”

Joe let on that he wasn’t always an academic type. He’d originally been trained as an industrial mechanic — working on heavy equipment like trucks, tractor trailers, forklifts and construction equipment.

Joe had been working for a municipal government down in Texas, and explained a ratings and compensation system that incentivized the drivers of The City’s Garbage Trucks to load their trucks as full as was mechanically possible before they came off their routes to go to the landfill.

Even if that ‘as full as mechanically possible’ was a weight well over the rated capacity of the truck.

If you are the mechanic that gets the call when an axle or suspension of one of those trucks lets go, This Is Not A Good Thing.

Especially since a truck that has had such a failure will not be coming back to the shop under its own power to effect such a repair.

So a younger man who would eventually become Dr. Gilmore found himself, on 100 degree Texas day, underneath a garbage truck with a broken axle, with the lovely and indescribable fluid which emerges from all garbage trucks slowly leaking down around him as he worked. And Potential Dr. Joe, at that juncture, had that most rational and understandable of thoughts.

“There has got to be a better way to make a living than this.”

And there sure as heck was. Joe went back to college, struck a whole bunch of letters behind the name on his business card, and, I surmise, ended up making a materially comfortable living somewhere out there in the Big Friendly World of Corporate Finance.

In my job I work occasionally with emissaries from that Big Friendly World, and I suspect that to this Joe it probably felt a lot like wearing a shirt and tie whose neck was 3/4 of an inch too small.

Then Academia had called, all was right with the world, and Joe ended up exactly where Joe was supposed to be all along.

It really is the Best of All Possible Worlds.

Joe was married to his high school sweetheart, who both shared and tolerated his enthusiasm for any form of moto-adventure.

Joe and Carol had a nearly contractually detailed agreement about Joe’s little enthusiasm and his tendency to invest in it. This agreement, which was of an adult nature and was neither G nor PG Rated is one I shall decline to detail, as this is A Family Show.

One can assume, however, from the nature of that Agreement that Joe never felt in any way constrained from buying any particular motorcycle or a whole buncha motorcycles.

And those motorcycles had taken the two of them from coast to coast, and helped to introduce them to many friend, including me and my son Finn.

Joe spent some time deep in conversation with Finn. Finn, it should be noted, is not the world’s most prolix conversational communicator, but the two of them were humming right along.

Professor Joe wanted to know about Finn’s Architecture Program, and his experience on the campus at College Park.

Just watching the two of them it was clear that Joe was genuinely interested, genuinely empathetic, and an obvious Natural at The Professoring Biz.

 

***

 

I don’t like to sit, generally.

I make a strategic exception for the saddle of my motorcycle, but otherwise, I don’ t like to sit.

So after a few minutes in the lawn chair I got antsy, and started to walk around.

In between the doors to the pole building, was a vintage gasoline pump.

“Roar With Gilmore — Blu-Green Gasoline!”

“Ethel — contains Tetraethyl Lead”

I was also admiring a perfect Honda 650 Hawk GT that sat right in front of it.

“So you like the pump, eh?,” asked Joe. “A friend found that for me. I think they went out of business in the 40s. I had stickers made up, though.”

And so he had — both Hawks — another perfect matched set — had ‘Roar with Gilmore’ decorating their tails.

“These Hawks are perfect, Joe. I test rode one during a special program Honda ran when they were new — its was a little razor — it went wherever you thought it should.”

“We do like ’em. We’re taking ’em for a ride later, after you guys head home.”

“Well I don’t want to hold you up any longer, man. It is way too nice a day to burn talking to me when you should be ridin’. I sure had fun, though.”

Finn and I shook hands with Joe, geared back up, waved and slid back down the gravel drive. It was a perfect day for a ride and we were really in no hurry to get back home.

 

***

 

US Scenic 40 East heads towards home, so we took US Scenic 40 West.

The pines of this forest were larger here, and the road, as it wound its way toward Town Hill, grew more shaded and cooler are we worked our way higher. The road was the treat of a road that I remembered from my first big ride to New Mexico — with switchback after switchback and huge grades and sweepers. With one eye on my rearviews it was fun to watch Finn attacking these corners.

I was definitely not the only one that was having fun.

After running about a dozen miles west, we took a loop of side roads that brought us back out on Scenic 40, where we reluctantly turned our wheels east.

The road over Town Hill was just as much fun going east as it had been going west, so it was all good.

Finn and I worked out way back down one mountain, and then up and down the other, grabbing a much needed sandwich when we worked our way back to Hancock.

 

***

 

Coming back out of Hancock one gets dumped onto I-70 for two exits, before Scenic 40 splits off again. Finn and I left the highway there, never to return.

The rest of the ride home was a string of little Western Maryland towns, strung along the Old National Road as they were. We were never over 60 for very long, and then would gently troll into another little town — gas station, library, market, cafe, Post Office — and then back onto the open road between them again.

Too soon, came South Mountain, Middletown, and a view of the ride towards home. Finn and I took a slight scenic detour, cutting back across the Valley on Picnic Woods and then Gapland Roads — trying to stretch this ride out for a few more perfect corners, tires biting, front wheels lightening up on corner exits. Try as we did to avoid it, too soon we were home, listening to the overwhelming sound of no motorcycle engines, pantomiming being stiff as we dismounted and placed our bikes on the stands.

There’s a world of future where there will be other rides, other bike and other trips.

But today with a new fellow traveller, a son I love and of whom I’m proud, and a most beautiful riding day, this ride to Joe’s was a little jewel that I knew I would always hold.