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.
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.
Lots of forgiving runoff space.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.