Gearing Up

You have probably experienced what it is like to have a favorite piece of riding gear, and for that favorite gear to seemingly exist outside of time until you suddenly realize that it doesn’t really.

One day you pick up a pair of gloves, them having been salted with your sweat just one too many times, and some piece of leather in them just crumbles and turns to dust.

Jackets whose leather cracks, whose zippers tear, whose belts no longer fit.

Helmets that have simply seen too much. Lug nut gouges on the crown, bug encrusted vent controls, scratched visors — interiors that have taken on a certain funky swampy quality.

Friends will squint at you and ask you, “How long have you had that helmet?”

And then you must admit that it is time.

 

***

 

I’ve been a Shoei man for a long time.

Sometime in the early 80’s, a riding buddy had showed me his Shoei helmet, and I remember being totally impressed about the materials, fit and finish of his gear.

At the time I had a Simpson Racing helmet. I’d come by it more or less by accident — having obtained it along with a bike. While they were cool looking helmets — with ventilated chinbars that echoed Darth Vader’s helmet — they were objectively terrible helmets compared to those of today. No real ventilation and crude visor systems. And when I retired the helmet, it was also by accident — it likely having saved my life when I got highsided off my /5 after leaving my sidestand down leaving a rest stop.

So my Simpson gave its life for mine — and while my collarbone, four ribs and punctured lung were healing, and while I was mastering the fine art of one-handed wrenching to replace my kinetically customized parts with stock ones — I bought a Navy blue RF-200.

After the better part of a decade in it, it got retired for an RF-700. Then an RF-900. And then my current Qwest. 7 or 8 years per helmet, 4 Shoeis — the math adds up to a lot of saddle time and a lot of miles.

 

***

 

The long slow decline from a shiny new helmet to a ewwy, fetid swamp is hard to notice while it’s happening. But when you find yourself swampy, you’ve got to do something about it.

I’ve got a kid in college, a mortgage, and the entire tool box of smaller but no less significant commitments. But I found myself in a position where I had a minor windfall that allowed me to allocate the coupla hunnert it would take to ensure I’d continue to have use of my brain.

Finn, too, was looking to reinvest.

When he had started riding, his initial outlay for gear had occurred very much on the cheap. It wasn’t at all clear that he was going to be a committed rider, so helmets, boots, jackets and pants had all been obtained on closeout, with the understanding that if his interest bloomed, he could always move up. Well it did and he was.

His original $69 close-out special — one of those helmet paint jobs that was an acquired taste that nobody apparently acquired — had taken a beating off his bike — leaving its visor mechanism a bit the worse for wear. His sneaker style riding boots had held up better, but were low enough that in filthy weather — and Finn had become a hell or high water rider — they were as likely to fill up with water as keep his feet dry.

We’d talked about heading to a local dealer who — in a gesture of defiance to you online buyers — actually was known to stock a decent selection of most riding gear. Finn really didn’t like the idea of boot shopping online, and since he — of summer Jr. Architect job — would be paying his own bill, it was his decision to make.

So we sat back, plotted and schemed, and waited for our opportunity.

 

***

 

Last Sunday, we got our opportunity.

You know how this works. Being responsible people, you have to take care of a million things that must be done before you get to do stuff you’d like to do.

If motorcycling is somehow supposed to be all about rebellion, I haven’t seen anywhere enough of that lately.

Our Sunday was day 6 in a sustained heatwave — unlike most Baltimore/DC region heatwaves, which are sticky high humidity messes, this one was a lost Arizona job, temperatures around 100 with low humidity. Not optimum conditions for either air-cooled motors, or guys wearing heavy boots. It was the only shot we were going to get though, so we took it.

Sitting idling at the bottom of the driveway, I went through the normal pre-ride briefing with Finn.

“Hot AF out here, bud. I’m going to take us on backroads around Frederick – I know a nice twisty route that’ll keep us in the shade until Urbana. Then we’ll take the slab down to I-370 where you normally cut off to take MD-200 back to school, but we’ll get off on Shady Grove Road just before the Tollway. Then it’s just 3 miles across Shady Grove to the dealership. I’ll lead across the 2 laner because you don’t know where you’re going. Once we hit the slab you should pass me and set your own pace and I’ll watch your six. When we get to the 370 ramp system I’ll pass again and lead you through the interchange because it’s tricky. You good?”

In response I got Finn’s thumbs up and the sound of his helmet visor slapping shut.

We toed a pair of transmissions down into gear and gassed off in search of a breeze.

 

***

 

The run across the South County really is a fun ride — it avoids about 20 miles of congested slab through Frederick and is a twisting, technical run with lots of elevation changes. Better still, the twistier sections of it are shaded, and it really doesn’t cost one any time, if you’re the sort of person who cares about such things.

It’s your classic twisting backroad shortcut.

Finn and I ran across Mountville Road — which climbs sharply up the ridge out of Jefferson in an entertaining series of switchbacks, and then crossed 15, where the road does a series of 90/90s as it cuts across farmland. By the time Finn and I got to Adamstown, the sides of the tires on my K12 and his CB500 were well warmed. We rode Adamstown Road west to Md 85, where we made a quick dogleg onto MD-80, Fingerboard Road.

Fingerboard is an absolute hoot of a road, with sharp grades and corners along the entire route. If you need more changes in direction or elevation than this, you’re going to need to go to your nearest Six Flags. It was great watching Finn cutting corners in the rearviews — he’s clearly come to a full understanding of his new CB500F, which given the saddle time I have on it, is an agile, compliant, friendly-puppy of a backroad bike. With the revs up it’s developed a lovely growl now that it’s mostly broken in, and the brakes are all one could want on a bike of such relatively little mass. The addition of some Givi hard cases — which look completely integrated and factory on the bike — has almost no perceptible effect on the bike’s handling.

Those Givis Look Factory

Where Fingerboard finally dumps into I-270, there’s a new traffic circle, and the on-ramp is one of the spokes that run off from it. The whole interchange was under construction, and our friendly engineers had lined both the edges of the ramp – front and back – with concrete Jersey Barriers.

Great visibility.

Lots of forgiving runoff space.

No pressure.

I took the K12’s revs up in second gear, got a decent look, and revved it out. I shot a look in my right mirror and Finn was right there with me, having hit the ramp in the same hole with the power on as well. After two quick upshifts the big brick’s rate of acceleration was finally slowing, and as I toed into top gear we adopted an only slightly arrestable cruise.

Amazingly, Finn and I had arrived in one of those unusual concentrations of nothingness on this road — one of the most oversubscribed, accident delayed, congested and generally hated hellscape commuter roads anywhere in the United States Interstate Highway System. Looking ahead, there was a clot of chaotic automobiles visible a few hundred yards up the road. Looking behind another auto-clot was visible, and for a brief period, Finn and I were riding alone, in the seam between the car packs.

In line with the agreed plan, I banked the LT to the right, and motioned with my left elkskin-covered paw for Finn to go by.

He didn’t need to be told twice.

Finn snapped off a smart downshift to fifth gear on his CB’s six speed box, rolled the throttle open and moved right on by.

He set himself up for the entry into the mass of cars we were catching up with, and began deftly slicing his way though the traffic stream.

Clearly, the days of being concerned that Finn couldn’t keep up on his now departed Single were long gone by. Instead of watching Finn’s six it was going to be my job to try to stick with it.

 

***

 

At that rate of cruise, we weren’t on the highway long.

For the brief time we were running south though, I did my level best not to catch bugs in my mouth in slackjawed horror looking at the Northbound lanes of I-270 which were completely filled with cars that were absolutely stopped. Whether it was an accident or a whole buncha people who all formerly thought they were smarter than the other guy trying to jump out early on the Wednesday Holiday by leaving on Sunday morning I will never really know.

All I did know was that on a Sunny, 98 degree day, we sure as heck weren’t going back that way.

After vaporizing Germantown and Gaithersburg we came into the divided 10 lane section where I-370 and MD-200 peel off for Rockville and points west. I snapped off a downshift, repassed my Boy Speedy, and lead the way into the ramp system. The 370 connector ramp is one of those elevated interchanges — two lanes that run high in the air and hold a fairly high rate of turn — in anything but an all out sportscar it would be a struggle, but the setup was just made for a bike.

After the both of us came back up off the right sides of our tires, we blended into traffic and passed a few guys. At the Shady Grove exit I lead the way off, and took us back down on to the surface streets.

For the next 2 or 3 miles Shady Grove Road is utterly suburban, four lanes each direction stoplight to stoplight, development to development, billiard table flat and featureless road. Featureless, except for maybe the cell-phone addled, driving like bottle rocket with one fin torn off, distracted suburban crazies that were inexplicably in a far greater hurry to get where they were going that we were to get to ours.

But as it gets close to the Mongomery County Airpark, where our destination lie, the road does a wonderful, inexplicable thing. I don’t know if it’s because the existing property lines forced the highway designers to perform unnatural acts, or because they were trying to align two utterly unaligned highway beds, but the last two miles before the airpark are like a tiny racebike amusement park, with a series of about six fairly tight, sweeping alternating corners, before one reached the intersection at the entrance to the airpark.

I have seen fellow enthusiast customers leaving the dealership – usually on full on sportbikes, Ducatis or R1s and such – doing unspeakable, unjustifiable things – things that looked like a heck of a lot of fun – on this little racetrack of a road.

If you wanted a racetrack to lead to the door of your motorcycle business, this is the road you’d be on.

 

***

 

Finn and I killswitched and standed the bikes, and spent a few minutes drinking from the insulated water jug and pair of plastic Square Route Rally mugs I’d had stashed on my top case.

My feet still feel hot just remembering it.

I hadn’t been aware that the owner of Battley Cycles/Rockville Harley Davidson – Devin Battley – had been considering retirement, but when you think about it, there comes a time when we all could use a break, so I completely understand why that might be. I’d only seen that the dealership had sold — now called District Cycles/Harley-Davidson — when I went to Battley’s website and saw the redirect.

I’ve done business with these guys – mostly the BMW side of the house – for many years, getting parts, service and accessories when they had what I needed. I’ve had more than a few friends there, all of whom are either gone or more gone, depending on your point of view.

From the parking lot it looked like they’d done a little redecorating and a little bit of rearranging, but except for the new signage the place looked more or less the same.

It was time to check the place out and genuinely enjoy some air conditioning.

 

***

 

Once inside the door, the old Battley sensations came flooding back. Where Buell Battletwin Serial Number 001 used to sit, there was now a receptionist’s desk. About six feet to the left of that, I’d met Lee Conn and seen the first two running Motus prototypes. Lee and his partner, Brian Case, had ridden them up to Maryland from Birmingham.

Snapping back to the present, though, Ms. Nice Receptionist-who-was-not-a-Battletwin inquired what sort of help we might require, and immediately hooked us up with two other nice ladies who might help with our hunt for boots and helmets.

I good a brief look and opportunity to try on the new Shoei RF-SR I’d come to buy. Unsurprisingly, it fit more or less the way its long line of ancestor helmets had. They didn’t have a white helmet in my size on the shelf, so I arranged to have one shipped to my house.

Finn looked at the RF and an Arai, for good measure, too.

“Pop, I can get a set of boots and a nice HJC helmet for what you’ll spend on that helmet. Too rich for my blood. Let’s look at some boots, though.”

I’d seen the HJC CL-17 helmet he had been ogling online – a nice-looking Snell certified helmet for about $130. Couldn’t argue with his reasoning, and was glad to see his value-driven thinking on full display again.

The nice ladies inquired what sort of motorcycle Finn rode. After considering for a second Finn’s Honda, they lead us past the HD-motorclothes department, and led us into the Darkest Closet of Dainese. After one or two pairs of slim racy touring boots or two – both of which were just a bit too armored and apparently, a bit to narrow for Finn’s wide feet – they produced a Gore-Tex low textile boot that took Finn’s existing Alpinestars armored ‘Basketball Shoes’ to the next level of protection with just a touch of Italian flair. And they came in ‘Wides’. They looked great, they had full protection, they were comfortable, and they’d be completely waterproof during Finn’s frequent rain rides.

Sold.

“Quanto costa?” Finn wanted to know.

The nice lady named a number. Finn sucked breath through his front teeth.

“But all apparel is 15% off today!”

Finn still looked less than enthused.

“How ’bout I throw my dad’s day cash from Granma on your tab? Would that do it for ya?”

And indeed it would.

After performing our required commercial drudgery, we spent a little time wandering the showroom admiring the manifold forms of bike flesh that were being offered. I admired a few BMWs that still had some appeal – an S1000XR, an R12RS, and a new custom variant of the R9T that amusingly seemed to have borrowed the non-stock metallic deep Goofy Grape paintjob of my R90S.

In the BMW department, Finn encountered his first Schuberth helmet, which he admired until he saw the pricetag, whereupon it returned to the rack so fast one would have thought it burnt his hand.

Finn was more impressed with a few Scrambler Ducatis and a MultiStrada or two.

I looked for a Motus, but couldn’t find one anywhere.

Thus sated with visions of motorcycles we couldn’t afford, Finn and I bid our hosts adieu, and headed back out onto the cooking surface. I consulted my phone briefly for a map, and realized that the road outside the Airpark, Maryland 124, wandered up through Montgomery County, into Carroll, until it ran back into the eastern end of Fingerboard Road – Maryland 80- which was the country shortcut we’d taken to get down here. All backroads, all likely uncongested, and at least 50% of the route in shaded forest.

I’ve been coming here for more than 20 years and had never found this route until I taken 28 seconds on Google.

We can always learn.

Stands up!

 

***

 

My memories of the ride back are a bit like a Dali painting — vivid colors but a bit melted around the edges.

When it gets this hot I try to remember to switch the ambient temperature display off on the LT’s dashboard. Nobody needs to be constantly reminded just how hot it is.

Finn and I rolled up 124 though Damascus — with the environs slowly changing from suburban to rural — and then went back once on Fingerboard to that lively dance of hills and corners. The LT is in its element here, although the CB might be just a bit more lively fun.

As we crossed back under I-270 coming out of Urbana and back into Frederick County, the big Flying Brick began to radiate heat — the entire driveline having become heat soaked. It wasn’t as bad as say a K1100 LT, but it was bad enough to have one hanging one’s feet off the edges of the pegs in futile search for some cooler air.

The run back up Fingerboard was even more fun than the ride down. We were loose, we were in the groove, and the rubber was definitely fully warm. Finally we blasted over the ridge back into Jefferson on Mountville Road, admiring the view across the valley off the side of the road and appreciating the 5 degree temperature drop one customarily encounters there.

Back in the driveway we went back and hit the water jug hard, and then got the hell back in the house as fast as we could.

 

***

 

About 90 minutes later Finn asked me, “Hey, Pop is this a burn mark on my jeans?”

I leaned in to take a really close look. There was something really familiar about it, but it took a few minutes for the bulb to come on. It’d been hot enough to get burned, but I didn’t think that was what it was.

The Mark of the (Dainese) Devil

“You been sitting with your new boot propped up on our leg? Looks like your jeans have a new little devil tattoo … ”

 

***

 

Two days later, the UPS guy dropped off two new helmet sized boxes on the front porch.

If wanted to see two grown men (admittedly of varying degrees of grownness) acting like kids at Christmas, then you missed your best opportunity.

I pulled the RF-SR out of its box, removed the protection films, and installed the chin curtain and breath guard. I was impressed that the helmet also included a pinlock fog shield as standard equipment. I tried it on, familiarized myself with the controls, and resolved to take it out for blast when it cooled off later that evening.

Finn, in contrast, went immediately out to his bike determined to test his new HJC.

“Pop, I need a picture with my new gear. I want to see how it looks on.”

Stylin’

Right after “Click”, Finn and the CB disappeared out of the driveway, and I could hear the exhaust note of the twin — now out of break-in and properly serviced — running up through the gears until I couldn’t hear it anymore.

I had to assume that Finn really dug his new motorcycle gear, because I didn’t hear that engine or see him again for quite some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Motorcycle

I’d like you to play a little mind game with me.

Break out your mental ‘Etch-a-sketch’ and imagine a motorcycle.

First draw two circles, close to the same size, that describe the wheels. One rectangle towards the rear gives you a bench seat. A jellybean shape provides your fuel tank. A cylinder, maybe two. Give the rider some grips to grab onto, a headlight, and a pipe or two to get noise out of those cylinders, and there it is.

A motorcycle.

Unlike the ‘Famous Artist’s School’ Drawing lessons whose ads festooned a misspent youth’s worth of matchbooks and motorcycle magazines, 4 payments of $4.95 are not required – this drawing lesson is free.

What you’ve drawn looks just like a Honda CB360T. Or a Triumph Bonneville. Or a Norton International, Matchless G12 or a Royal Enfield Bullet.

Your mind’s eye has produced an iconic, simple, classic standard motorcycle.

And in your mind’s eye is likely where that classic motorcycle will stay, because almost no-one still manufactures a product that looks or functions like that.

Think about what motorcycles are out there in the marketplace, and which ones sell in substantial volumes. There are all manner of racetrack refugees – Yamaha YZF-R1s, Suzuki GSXR 1000s, BMW RR1000s, Kawasaki ZX-10s. Such motorcycles are extraordinary pieces of engineering, capable of blistering lap times and stunning top speeds that would have had them on the GP Podiums of 20 years ago.

Most of us, though, just want to get to work with our laptop and lunchbox, take a ride to the grocery store, or put our girlfriend (or boyfriend) on the back seat for a Sunday afternoon ride. Good luck transporting anything bigger than a granola bar, or any SO over 5 feet tall as a passenger on one of these machines.

Other specialized motorcycle designs abound. Heavy Tourers. Sport Tourers. Adventure Bikes. Cruisers. Baggers Bikes with more power, more mass, more suspension travel, more complexity, more function, but with more focus – being good at one thing at the expense of others. Good on the Interstate but a wrestling match in the city. Sweet on a single track but a tall mess on the pavement.

I’m as guilty as any rider of feeding the specialization beast. I have a vintage sport bike, racer boy bubble and all. I have a scrambler – which was riding dirt before anyone coined the term. I have a GT Bike – fairings, panniers and top case – complex adjustable fairings and artsy alternate suspension. It can carve twisty pavement with a week’s gear on board at 80 mph and can do it for weeks at a time. Its motor has a bigger displacement than half the cars in Italy.

My first street motorcycle was a 1973 CB750. It was bone stock – save for a universal chrome tube luggage rack, with a Green Spring Valley Dairy milkcrate bolted on.

Why does it feel like I’ve lost something?

My youngest son Finn is also a rider, and although he gets some, doesn’t really need any encouragement from me. As an Architect in Training, Finn has a developed design eye. When he first started looking at motorcycles, he was immediately drawn to one of those last few remaining classic motorcycles, the Royal Enfield. He intuitively understood the Bullet’s classic design language and intent. Had Finn had as much income as he had discerning taste, he’d have bought one, too.

His first few years in the saddle – using his bike for daily transportation – were spent aboard a Buell Blast single whose purchase was mostly based on the $900 it cost to buy. Being an Architect and not a mechanic, Finn found himself the recipient of increasingly frequent not quite social visits from me and from ever increasing percentages of my toolkit stuffed into the saddlebags of the aforementioned GT bike.

After the Blast’s engine fell out, it became clear, even to me, that some more material adjustments needed to be made to Finn’s riding life, and those adjustments were spelled H-O-N-D-A.

After about 639 phone calls to Baltimore’s Pete’s Cycle, my credit union and my Allstate agent, Finn had a brand new 2016 CB500F parked in my garage – at least until its permanent license plate showed up.

Two circles, one rectangle, one jellybean, some grips, two cylinders, a headlight and a pipe.

Motorcycle.

So it was with a light and expectant heart that I pulled on my leathers and my helmet, and rolled the CB out of my garage.

It’s not difficult to see the classic motorcycles of the past in the CB’s profile. Its parallel twin engine, sit up riding profile, and relaxed footpeg position carry obvious echos of the original CB450 Black Bomber, and the Triumph Bonneville that it was designed to vanquish. There are a few concessions to modernity – the bike’s 471 cc motor is liquid cooled, fuel injected, and has a double overhead cam, 4 valve cylinder head. Honda’s stylists did their best to pay homage to the tank shape and tailsection of Marc Marquez’ championship winning RC213V.

Fingering the starter yields immediate action – the bike’s exhaust note has a whistling quality which comes from the fuel injection pump and the operation of the injectors being the loudest sounds coming from the motor. The CB’s reaction to throttle is immediate – the engine’s square bore and stroke design has almost no flywheel.

On the road, the CB is a dream. The 6 speed transmission shifts positively – downshifts are a treat given the engine’s immediate response to a blips of the throttle. The quality of the engine’s power delivery is sneaky fast – there’s just enough communication to let you know that this is a twin, but the quality of the vibration is always pleasant – at higher RPMs and highway speeds the motor smooths out admirably. Above 6000 rpm that twin is ripping.

Cornering behavior is exemplary – the bike is narrow, weighs just over 400 lbs wet, cuts entries and changes direction like a scalpel and holds its cornering line securely even at extreme lean angles. Suspension is taut but comfortable. The bike’s 4 piston Nissin single rotor front brake is more than enough for the CB’s low mass.

I find myself seeking out tighter and more technical stretches of Frederick County pavement as the tires scrub in. I’m working the bike’s throttle, making full use of all 6 gears, and spending some quality time with the horizon anywhere but horizontal.

The CB500F has not been a sales leader for Honda. This bike was a leftover 2016 that was deeply discounted at the end of the 2017 sales year. On the West Coast, examples can be bought new for more than 35% off the current MSRP. Our American Riding Brothers and Sisters will tell you that its engine is “too small” and that it isn’t track ready, tour ready or adventure ready. All of that misses the point completely. Anywhere else in the world, where 2 wheeled transportation means a world of 125s, 350 Bullets, two strokers and motorscooters, the CB is an aspirational motorcycle – more attractive and better performing at a price that normal humans, and more importantly in the US, young riders, can afford.

Sitting in my driveway looking at the CB with Finn, it’s clear that we agree with those riders. Neither one of us ever gets tired of looking at the CB, and Finn’s opinion is “This is my new favorite thing in the entire world”.

Better still, is the CB is just grin-inducingly and totally fun to ride.

And isn’t that why we ride?

 

 

***

This story originally appeared in the January/February Issue of Motorcycle Times.

 

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.

WP_20171118_10_33_41_Pro

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.

WP_20171118_10_33_33_Pro

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.

WP_20171118_11_04_20_Pro

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.

WP_20171119_20_50_21_Pro

You tell me you don’t see Optimus Prime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

At the next stop I signaled.

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

“I’m OK – let’s keep bangin’.”

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Costa Mesa Bros got nothin’ on us.

 

I Surrender

I never thought it would come to this.

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

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

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

My shame in this knows no bounds.

 

***

 

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

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

Bliss, they say, is fleeting.

WP_20170625_20_29_56_Pro

Another series of texts from Finn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No mas. Make it stop.

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

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

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

I still want to like the Blast.

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

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

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

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

Plus, It’s a Honda.

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

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

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

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

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

CB

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

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

 

***

 

Postscript:

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

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

WP_20171118_11_04_20_Pro

Great Grandson of the Black Bomber