Saturday, December 6, 2008


I've been neglecting my blog for the past few weeks. Not that I haven't been riding. I've fired up the Widder vest and been riding into work each day as the weather permits. Having a 45-mile commute, I must not neglect to research the conditions for the return trip prior to leaving the house in the morning. Yesterday, the forecast was dry but cold as the area awaited the next front system to push into the region over night. I left the house at around 7:30 a.m. to the tune of 21 degrees. While the Ninja runs well in cold weather, I've experienced some difficulties with the lever blades freezing up. I sometimes have to get out a hair dryer and defrost them to avoid the levers sticking in place.

On the way home yesterday evening, I stopped to swap out the tinted face shield for the clear when an older gentlemen and his wife exiting a convenience store asked how I avoided freezing to death. At this point, the temps had risen into the lower 30's. I gave them a run down of my gear. The couple was particularly amazed at the electric vest. The old man confessed to being a rider in his younger years and recalled a tale of near freezing to death in old leather gear.

The conversation gave me the idea of posting a layer by layer account of the gear I use and how I suit up. It'll have to wait, however, until I'm feeling a bit more industrious. I've been feeling a little on the low side since getting up this morning and seeing this in the drive way.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

But I'm Feeling Much Better Now...

During Clinton's 1996 administration, the president introduced the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The basic idea behind the Act was to end discrimination against individuals with pre-existing medical conditions by employers. While the final rules enacted in 2001 prevent denial of health care coverage to anyone participating in any recognized legal activity, such as motorcycling, a loophole in the Act permits denial of benefits despite the right to coverage. Under the current legislation, a motorcyclist has the right to coverage but may be denied the benefits of the coverage despite payment of premiums if the motorcyclist's injuries were sustained while riding the motorcycle.

Two new bills, H.R. 1076 and S. 616, the HIPAA Recreational Injury Technical Correction Act attempt to close this loophole and end the discrimination against motorcyclists with pre-existing injuries. Requests to representatives and senators can be sent via email or in print from the AMA's website.

The injuries I sustained in "the crash of '05" will likely haunt me for the remainder of my natural life. Considering that the damage was caused by a kid in a car speeding through a stop sign at twenty over the posted limit, I'm against the notion that I may have to keep footing the bill for someone else's negligence. Especially when taking into account I'm a motorcyclist with high levels of insurance coverage who dutifully pays his premiums. Frankly, that's a notion that I, or anyone in my position, can not afford.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feeling Blue

Forgot to post the pics of my ride up the Blue Ridge Parkway this summer. Better late than never, I suppose. With the winter weather closing in, I find myself reflecting on the longer rides through gorgeous country I've taken over the previous year. Here's a few shots from the Ridge taken during late June 2008.

Top of the World

Looking Glass Mountain

Shadow on the Mountain

Grandfather Mountain

Any port in the Storm

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Brits in the Blood

I hop on the elevator after leaving the bike in the garage. It's about 38 degrees, and I'm full gear. The thermostat cable hangs down to my knees from under my shirt like a cybernetic umbilical cord. I punch the number for the first floor, and the pale eye on the control panel illuminates as the elevator door slides closed.

I get to share the ride with one of the building maintenance men. "Cold out there, ain't it?" He stuffs his hands into the pockets of his coveralls and grins at me.

"Yup." I smile back. I can't say much else as my face is too cold. I laugh instead. "A Ninja. I ride a Ninja." The face shield of the helmet I'm carrying mists over with condensation.

"Mmmm, fast," he says. He lowers his head and sighs. "I ride old British bikes." He smiles at me again and not all his grin is joy. "I'm a glutton for punishment."

We both laugh. The elevator doors open, and we spill out into the lobby. We separate, both on foot.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Big Green Machine published an online article detailing the diversity of the Kawasaki company. The article outlines how Kawasaki began as a shipping company in 1878 and follows the company's progression into the mid-1990's. Today, Kawasaki's holdings include not just the powersports division of which I'm so fond, but also Kawasaki Heavy Industries, manufacturer of aerospace components, tunnel-boring machines, biomass powerplants, robots, and bullet trains. Read about it here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Temple to the God of Speed

One more spot I have yet to visit in the flesh.

A new motorcycle land speed record of 360.913 mph was set at the Salt Flats on September 26 of this year by rider Rocky Robinson and his team, Top 1 ACK Attack. The previous record of 350.884 mph was set in 2006 by Chris Carr and builder/owner Denis Manning.

Tilting the Horizon

I almost forgot how exhilerating a new tire can be, just how far a bike can lean on fresh rubber. I spent a few hours yesterday on the local roads, tilting the horizon through Amish country.

Old House and Truck

Delapidated Barn on the Edge of Amish Country

Tobacco in the Barn

Overlook Along the Little Kentucky River Valley--Rt. 1036

Little Kentucky River Valley from Rt. 202

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On the Road Again

I picked the Ninja up from the shop yesterday morning and rode it back to the house. Although I nearly entered withdrawal from not being in the saddle for almost a week, I decided to leave the bike at home and take the cage to work. It was raining, and I didn't feel like risking a new front tire, new front brake pads, and a virgin chain and sprockets against the wet pavement.

I'm planning to get a little saddle time in this afternoon in the dry weather to take the shine off the front tire. I'll probably find an open parking lot somewhere so I can practice a little emergency braking with the new brake pads. The new chain and sprockets run so smoothly they felt like they were greased with butter. All the "repairs" made to the bike over the previous week were actually routine maintenance. With a little over 38K on the clock, it was just a matter of time before some of the hard-wearing parts needed replacing.

I'm looking forward to catching some of the Autumn foliage with the camera later today. There's a brief period between rust brown and on the ground around here where the leaves put on a quintessential display.

So, what's the cost of the 650's routine mainenance?
  • New front tire: $160.00
  • New front brake pads: $38.00
  • New final drive chain: $80.00
  • New font sprocket: $35.00
  • New rear sprocket: $55.00
  • Labor: $90.00

The cost of being able to dip low enough into a corner to scrape a footpeg and still be able to stop in event of an oncoming vehicle crossing the centerline: pricele...wait a minute...that comes to about $460. Holy shi...(THIS COMMENT CENSORED BY THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR EXCELLENCE IN BIKER CONDUCT. HAVE A NICE DAY.)

Well, at least I'm on the road again. Here I am, shellin' out the cash again...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ninja in a Bind

Last weekend, while exploring local roads, I could feel the chain on the bike was binding. When under load, in other words while pulling forward in gear, the chain would pop hard enough to reverberate through the bike. I could feel the vibration through the foot pegs. Normally, assuming proper tire inflation and up to date maintenance, the Ninja rides as smooth as velvet. In it's current condition, an irregular rhythm has crept into the 650's steady grind.

I cleaned the chain, degreased and scrubbed. Initially, the cleaning lessened the sensation echoing through the pegs and frame. But as the week wore on and the fresh chain lube thinned, the binding grew steady worse.

So, the bike's in the shop again for the second time in two months. I'm probably looking at a new chain and the possibility of replacement of the sprockets. The front tire, a Bridgestone, has peaked over the past 10,000 miles. A new front shoe should arrive by Wednesday. The shop's going to take a gander at the front brakes as well.

I have a tendency to blame the manufacturer rather than miles when something wears out on my machine. I recall repairs made on machines I've ridden in the past, like the Virago, for instance, which devoured three starters before reaching 20,000 miles and constantly fouled plugs. Or the '78 Yamaha, my first bike, which ran for a total of 15 seconds on my first attempts to start it up, 15 spluttering, coughing seconds. Compared with those examples, the Ninja's crisis might better be described as routine.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How Low Can You Go?

I'm leaving the Waffle House this evening after a late dinner with friends when the grill cook calls to me from over the counter. "You on a bike?"

"Yep," I say. I hold up my helmet.

"You're gonna freeze tonight." The cooks smiles. He's only got a couple teeth left in front that aren't black.

I raise my arms in the Joe Rocket jacket. "It's insulated, ballistic nylon. Waterproof, too."

"Still cold out there."

"I've got heated gear."

The cook's jaw drops open. "What? You've got a heater on your bike."

"It plugs into the bike and has it's own thermostat." I hold open the flaps of my jacket. "I wear it under this. But it's not quite cold enough for that yet."

The cook shakes his head and returns to the grill, standing over which, I'm certain, he is toasty warm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cafe Racer

The 650 Ninja's heart thrums like a cafe racer dressed in formal wear. In a city like Louisville, the beat of that heart parallels the pulse of the cafe life. Cruising up Floyd Street and heading for River Road, I catch the glow of an illuminated espresso sign at Floyd's intersection with Market. I can see the neon open sign in the window and decide to stop in for a late night cappuccino before riding home. The Espresso sign hangs over the entryway for Derby City Espresso, a brightly lit shop tailored with leftover furniture, bar stools, local artwork. The barrista whipped up my beverage, and I sauntered out onto the downtown sidewalk to a table by the street to enjoy it. The angled spaces lining the north side of Market Street are perfect for motorcycles, and the table out front under an umbrella and shade tree permits a lustful eye to roam over the machines backed to the curb.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I was burning some time cruising through Google Video and came across this safety promotion from the UK. Great footage, fabulous machine, and snappy soundtrack.

THINK! is a road safety campaign in the United Kingdom aiming to reduce fatalities among motorcyclists and others who share the road with larger vehicles. The website reports the goal of reducing road injuries by 40 percent in adults and 50 percent in children. The site also proposes that the purpose of Government campaigns concerning road safety is to reinforce the notion of personal responsiblity for safety on public roadways. It'll be nice when that idea catches on over here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Heat is...Off?

I purchased the October 2008 issue of Road Runner magazine this last weekend which came complete with massive pull-out advertisement from Harley-Davidson. While the ad was impressive in itself--a pullout, fold open poster on one side and forthcoming improvements to the 2009 touring models on the reverse--I was most intrigued by some of the promised improvements. Most notably, HD has rerouted the exhaust system on the new tourers to better shield the rider from the heat produced by the exhaust during low speed or stand-still situations. Even more impressive, HD promises a rider activated control switch that temporarily deactivates the firing of the rear cylinder. Kudos to Harley-Davidson for response to rider needs that aren't necessarily centered around attitude and appearance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Apocalypse Now

Things have not been going well in the world of machines this month. Shortly before what was left of hurricane Ike blew through this region and knocked the power out for a week, we had a lightning strike in the area that fried my modem and router despite surge protection. My desktop crashed shortly after power was returned. The blower motors on both cars have ceased to function. Considering I'm still using the bike as primary transportation to work, I wasn't all that concerned....

....Until the stator fried on the bike while I was heading into work just about a week ago and left me stranded under a bridge overpass during a thunderstorm. It was one of those moments where you mentally and spiritually step away from your life and take a good look at the state of affairs and then begin to chuckle. The chuckles stretched into guffaws of hysteria. I may have wept a little and cursed the gods. Even the homeless folks collecting stray bottles and cans steered clear of me.

When things dried out a little, I attempted to diagnose the problem. While knowing it was electrical in nature, I determined after checking connections, fuses, and saturation of controls that the problem was beyond my ability to repair on the side of the road. Fortunately, I own a pickup truck. I dropped the bike off at the local dealer who diagnosed the faulty stator. Unfortunately, the problem wasn't covered under extended warranty and cost a whopping $650 parts and labor. Stator repaired and computers returned to a functional state, I pass the joys of mechanical dysfunction on to you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What's That Smell?

Changed the oil in the bike the other day and did something really stupid immediately following. I'd swapped the Fram filter for a K&N which requires the lower cowling to be removed. Simply draining the oil and replacing the fluid can be done without pulling off any of the body work. I rarely do this. If I'm going to get greasy, then I might as well go the whole nine yards.

With the lower fairing removed, I fired the engine over, let it warm up a little, and then walked around the machine checking for leaks. Seeing none, I shut it down and (here's where stupid comes bopping along) was so excited to get out on the road, I decided to put the plastic back on right away. While wrestling it into place, I reached around the edge of the fairing to get a little leverage and planted my fingers directly across one the bends of the exhaust.

The pipes were so hot they felt cold. And then there's that brief whiff of cooking meat and I hopped around the driveway clutching my burned fingers and swearing. No major damage, however, just missing fingerprints, light blistering, and a slightly poached ego.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Labor Day Lounging

I did absolutely no riding this Labor Day. None whatsoever. I didn't even sit on the bike through the holiday. The thought crossed my mind sometime on Saturday morning, early while the air was cool. By the time I hauled my butt off the couch, I'd been up much of the night watching Predator and Predator II, I stepped out the kitchen door into a steamy afternoon. I turned around immediately and resumed my post in front of the television.

I did leave the house for most of Sunday, but I took the cage. My wife and I visited some friends in Elizabethtown, KY for some food and an evening playing games. Yes, that's the same Elizabethtown for which the movie was named.

I spent Labor Day again parked in front of the boob tube for a 15-hour Star Trek TNG marathon on the Sci-fi Channel, a viewer's choice marathon. Oh yes, 15 hours of Jean Luc Picard, Warf, Data, Q, Dr. Beverly Crusher, and, God forbid, even little Wesley. So while the bike occasionally called to me from the driveway, I spent the weekend indulging my inner goober.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How Many Bikers Does It Take... change a light bulb? Well, in this case, only one. I lost the low beam lamp on a ride home in the dark a few days ago. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a replacement bulb at any place like Wal-Mart. I phoned the local Kawasaki dealer in Carrollton, KY. They had a replacement and for a mere $20, I could ride down there and pick it up. So I rode down to the dealership and forked over the cash. I decided to plug the sucker in right there in the parking lot. Remove the seat and retrieve the tool kit, and a few turns of an allen wrench later, and the left cockpit panel lifts away. The fit and finish of the 650R is a blessing and curse. The light weight plastic allows easy access to anything the covers conceal. The fairing also buzzes like a swarm of angry bees at low rpms due to the lack of any buffering materials between the panels. I toyed around with ways of isolating the panels, but had little success in dampening the buzzing. After awhile, I just got used to it. In fact, if the fairing doesn't vibrate, I start to worry that something might be wrong. I used to say the same thing about my Sportster and oil leaks.

So I paid more for a light bulb a little larger than the nipple from a baby bottle than I would for a quality oil filter. I run Fram's most of the time, by the way. But both lights are functional again. I would say that the headlight system on the 650R succeeds as one of the most effective systems I've had on any bike. And in this neck of the woods, on roads choked with raccoon, deer, and the occasional stray dog, function definitely triumphs over form.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Long Way...In?

Normally, I take Interstate 71 south into Louisville to work. The weather's been so fantastic this week that I decided to see just how long the commute would take if I stuck to back roads. The humidity in the nothern Kentucky region has been stable around 39%, which is absolutely unheard of for this time of year. On I-71, the commute takes just over 35 minutes, but it's a mere exercise in survival. The commute via my favorite country roads took nearly an hour and a half. Though it consumed more time, the rural route payed in highter dividends for the spirit. Part of my route included a brief stop on Wolf Pen Branch Road in western Henry County to add the liner to my jacket.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Thoroughbred By Any Other Name

The deal is done. Harley acquired all shares of Italian motorcycle manufacturer, MV Agusta, for the price of 70 million euros. That's about $108 million stateside. Read more about it at Cycle News or at

I've got mixed emotions over the union. On one hand, Harley's brand loyalty and marketing power could do wonders in bringing MV Agusta to the forefront of the motorcycle world. The MV Agusta group, according to the above sources, racked up a sizable debt. No doubt, as successful as Harley has been financially over the previous decade, the Motor Company could solve the Italian manufacturer's financial difficulties.

But on the other hand, MV Agusta motorcycles are legendary for their performance and power. The Italian brand is considered one of the thoroughbreds of the industry. While Milwaukee considers it's brands as "premium", I have to question whether what classifies a brand as premium can be determined solely by level of sales. Harley's definition seems to be more a measure of marketing rather than of performance. And I'm forced to question whether a thoroughbred remains a thoroughbred if it's over bred.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Finer Edge

I refuse to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death.--Unknown

I experienced four close calls this afternoon during the fifty mile commute home from work today. After saddling up at 5:30 p.m., I decided to head across town to the local cafe for a cappuccino and some light reading and to wait for the traffic to thin out. Preparing to merge into the left-hand lane on a one-way street, I signal, check over my left shoulder for traffic, and prepare to slip the bike over the dashed center line. I've seen no oncoming vehicles. I double check the mirror for cars and catch a flash of red in the glass. A Honda Accord speeds by as I tilt the Ninja to remain in the right-hand lane and out of harms way. The driver crosses into my lane without signaling and grinds to a halt at the light. Her approximate speed in the 35 mph zone I estimated at 50+ mph. I arrive at the light and the driver ignores me, staring stone-faced out the windshield. I shake my head and slip off to the left toward the cafe.

I've read the above quote, origin unknown, on several motorcycle sites. It's a statement of independence against those people who respond to the fact that some of us choose to ride with, "But don't you know they're dangerous?" Non-riders might interpret the quote as a complete disregard for life and limb. Yet, I've observed as many riders wearing varying degrees of safety gear alluding to the above statement as those riders who wear nothing more than a t-shirt and bandana.

On SR146, a minivan, cell phone glued to the driver's ear, lumbers into my path of travel. I clamp down on the front break to bring the bike to a stop. On a one-lane county road, a white Bronco rounds a blind corner fast and can not stop in time to avoid hitting the oncoming motorcycle. I countersteer the bike to the right and pass close enough to the driver-side door to witness the startled expression on the driver's face.

It's turning out to be the kind of day where I've considered pulling the bike over to the edge of the road and shutting it down. I've contemplated laying down in the grass somewhere along the shoulder, mostly to let my heart crawl back down out of my throat. It's the kind of day where I ponder throwing my arms up at the sky and proclaiming, "Relax! I'm nearly home. I get the point."

Back on the two-lane, I'm setting up for a twist through my favorite set of curves on route 1606, a lazy "S" beneath the I-71 overpass. Not even into the first turn, a delivery truck emerges from behind the trees, completely in my lane of travel. The driver panics and cuts the wheel hard toward the appropriate lane. The back of the truck fishtails along the double yellow, then settles into it's new and sudden trajectory. I roll by on the right, the rumble cuts on the shoulder buzzing in the handlebars. I get a good look at the truck driver's face. His mouth is pinched into a rictus resembling pain.

Sometimes I wonder if the risk is worth the reward. A day like today sharpens my instinct for self-preservation to a fine edge. I stare at the bike when I'm finally at home and wonder if my life would be all that terrible without the ride. Then I remember the cool morning commute where the traffic just seemed to melt away, leaving me alone at high speed to get my head straight before work. I recall stopping on that old one-lane in the tall grass along the shoulder and taking in the scent of drying tobacco carried to me on the wind as it whisks through a nearby barn. I visualize the perfect spin through that set of S-curves with the bike leaned to within a half-inch of traction loss, my head angled toward the top-riding mirror. No gravel in the corners. I can feel all over again the arc as the motorcycle cuts along the centerline, and the pull of the twin as I twist the throttle and rocket out of the turn toward home.

Risk and reward. I often forget that riding transports one beyond brain chemistry, outdistances mere cause and effect. Riding gives me the opportunity to examine the world without boundaries, to recognize my limits and sometimes push beyond them. The motorcycle folds the eye of the rider in upon himself that he might glimpse and refine his spirit through the lens of risk.

A man who won't die for something is not fit to
live.--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Disabled Motorcyclist

I rode the bike to Owensboro, KY yesterday evening to have my orthopedist examine my right ankle. Since it's reconstruction following the crash in July 2005, walking on it has always brought a certain level of discomfort. Lately, however, that level has reached an intensity that alarms me. I find myself hobbling around the house not just at the beginning of the day, but throughout the day as well. I've experienced a grinding sensation when applying pressure to the foot when I step. Sometimes, the grinding is severe enough to produce an audible pop that can be heard several feet away.

The doctor reviewed the x-rays and confirmed that conditions within the ankle have deteriorated over time. I now not only have the original injury to think about but arthritis and bone spurs as well. I'm being referred to a specialist in the Louisville area in order to go over options. As it stands, I've been given a few alternatives to the current setup to mull over, including a total ankle replacement and fusing the bones of the ankle. Fusing the ankle, while a more reliable method to handle the deterioration, severely limits the mobility of the joint. Similar to a knee or hip replacement surgery, ankle replacement preserves the flexibility of the joint, but has questionable long-term reliability. We even went as far as to discuss the use of cadaver bones to replace the damaged ones in my ankle. Spare parts!

During my rehabilitation in 2005 and 2006, I spent quite a bit of time online looking for help for disabled motorcyclists. I still wasn't sure how much mobility I'd have with my damaged right leg or if I'd be able to support the weight of a bike using that leg. I discovered a loosely connected network of riders offering support to one another, not just in the sense of the emotional, but in modifications made to motorcycles to enable riders to continue riding. With a possible surgery, which would be my third, approaching and the chance for reduced mobility, it just might be time to dust off that old list of resources again.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Long Way Down

I have the good fortune to live near a theater that showed the two-hour director's cut of Long Way Down. The cut shown in theaters serves basically as a premiere for the television series set to air on Fox Reality Channel later this evening (9:00 p.m. ET). Unfortunately, I'm not a subscriber. Looks like I'll have to wait for the DVD series to hit the stores. According to the website, I'll have options to purchase the series as a separate set of discs or as included with the ultimate fan kit, a package deal with DVDs, book, soundtrack, and t-shirt.

I really enjoyed the first adventure Ewan and Charlie filmed. My initial exposure to Long Way Round came through the book rather than the DVDs. I wasn't aware a TV series even existed until I picked up the printed account of the trip. While it seems the primary focus of the later series has been video, I'm pleased to see that a book will find it's way onto my reading list.

The director's cut of Long Way Down was shown in one of the small theaters "in the back". When my wife and I rendezvoused at the cinema, there were already a few bikes parked out front, mostly BMW's. The theater was packed, something I hadn't really expected. The audience laughed at the jokes, ooowed and awed at the scenery and the animals, gasped at the atrocities of Rowanda, and applauded at the finish. Afterward, we loitered in the parking lot to talk bikes and trade tales of our own adventures, even if they were just treks across Louisville through rush hour traffic.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Motorcycle Crashes on Modern Marvels

Caught the episode detailing some of the science behind crashes. A portion of the series segment focused on motorcycle crashes and how scientists study these crashes in order to develop state of the art equipment to minimize the damage done to riders.

Independents vs. The Dealers

I dropped the 650 off at my favorite local shop for maintainance. I used to enjoy performing the work myself and still do a few of the routine tasks such as changing oil. Mostly, I just can't squeeze the time out of the day to tear a bike down the way I once could. It's the price I pay for chosing a career that doesn't directly involve motorcycles.

I figured I might have an oil leak as well and wanted the guys at Cycle Works to give the bike a thorough inspection. It took them a little longer than usual but I've finally got the machine back. In the past, it hasn't been uncommon for them to return the bike to me within two days. This time took about a week. Apparently, one of the mechanics was down in the back and they got a little behind in work.

Any time the work takes a little longer than I'm accustomed to, I get a little antsy and start thinking of other shops where I might be able to take the bike. I prefer independent shops like Cycle Works because I get treated with respect while my machine's on the lift. My experience with dealerships, almost across the entire spectrum of manufacturer, has been that if I appear not to have a significant dollar amount to spend, then I'm not worth the trouble of approaching. I've been to dealers where I've been received by absolutely no one, even when staff are on the floor and doing little more than speaking with one another.

So I pick up the bike, engage in a bit of pleasant conversation, and ride off on a machine that's dialed in like it rolled off the showroom floor. I'm also not treated like an idiot for not knowing all the inner workings of the machine. No website for the guys at Cycle Works, just word of mouth and a spot of advertising. I was drinking coffee at a local micro-roastery when the owner struck up conversation over the machines we ride. He suggested the Works when I told him I needed someone to tune the bike. The place had been recommended to the coffee bar owner by a motorcyclist that stopped to try and help the owner with a flat. I've passed the word on to those who just want their bikes handled with as much care as they would give if they had the necessary skill. One motorcyclist helping another motorcyclist.

Cycle Works, 3302 Preston Highway, Louisville, KY (502) 366-7102

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ride to Work Day

Today is the 17th annual Ride to Work Day. Ironically, I'm in the cage today due to the bike being parked at the mechanics garage for maintenance and an oil leak. Good Morning America ran a brief segment this morning touching on increased use of motorcycles and scooters by the American public. Predominantly, the piece focused on the rising cost of fuel and the efficiency of two-wheeled transport. A video segment highlighted an interview with a Vespa dealer in the San Diego, California area. Apparently, all of the dealerships in that area retailing scooters sold their entire stock. Piaggio, the owner of the Vespa label, experienced record sales for this year.

I wasn't able to find a link to the footage or story anywhere on GMA's website. However, I did discover references to the piece among the comments posted by viewers. Motorcyclists are chiming in concerning the lack of safety gear worn by Chris Cuomo. He rode to work with a top notch helmet and a brightly colored textile jacket, but must have forgotten his gloves and boots. The light-weight business slacks aggravated a few posters.

I think I'll send Chris a comment of my own. I don't want to jump down his throat over safety issues. What about those of us who have been riding to work for years? Some of us have made motorcycles a large part of how we live prior to the rise in fuel costs. Not saying we should receive some sort of extra credit, but the perspective of experience could prove useful to those wondering whether the two-wheeled life is right for them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Blue Ridge Snippets

I'm working on some photos from a recent trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway. While I'm sizing and tinkering, I thought I'd post a few of the small video clips I managed to record along the way.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mania Accelerated

My usual morning commute follows I-71 a crowded 35 miles into downtown Louisville. It's the fastest approach to the city from where I live, but it's also a high risk ride. The interstate only spans four lanes. Once past I-265, the Gene Snyder Freeway, there are only two exists before entering the city. I-264, with Waterson Parkway, functions as an inner bypass loop and exits to the left off of I-71. There's Exit 1, Zorn Avenue, which serves as access to River Road running past the Riverfront Park area and my prefered route of travel into downtown. But it's populated by heavy trucks hauling scrap metal and gravel and I'm likely to be tailgated by BMW and Mercedes sedans hauling ass into the city from Oldham County. While negotiating these limited pathways toward my place of employment, there's precious little room for mistakes. The traffic flow tends toward the bumper to bumper variety with speeds in excess of 75 mph in a 55 mph zone. I've witnessed some of the most shocking behavior while traveling through this gauntlet of speed and risk. This morning, a black Lincoln Towncar in the fast lane parallels me just before the tight, left-hand exit onto I-264. At this point, the fast and cruising lanes seem to change places. For a brief instant, the two harmonize and then the traffic in the cruising lane slips forward and rockets into the turn where I-264 east bound splices into I-71 south. It was in that moment of singularity, of unity at speed, that I glanced into the Lincoln traveling the left-hand lane to observe the car's driver leaning into the passenger seat to spit into a cup positioned there, a toothbrush protruding from the side of his mouth. A quick glimpse at the speedo indicates I'm at 70 mph. Then I'm sliding past, he's behind me, and I'm shaking my head as I lean into the curve. Just a few more miles and I'm safe at work. Secure for another eight hours before chancing the afternoon mania.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Drive Home

When coming home from work, I take I-71 North out of Louisville. For an interstate, there are relatively few exits between downtown and my exit 35 miles away. One in particular, the second Buckner exit, can be hazardous for travelers on the highway and those entering the flow of traffic. The ramp spits cars out from behind a rock wall onto an all too brief acceleration lane just over the crest of a hill. It's not uncommon to top the rise and find a slow moving block of steel and plastic lumbering into my path of travel. Today, I wasn't disappointed. Just over the rise, I meet a black Honda Civic. I'm riding at 75 and the Honda's driving at 40. I swing into the passing lane and cover my controls, getting ready for the car to dart across both lanes to clear others behind me in the cruising lane. Instead, the driver eases into the slow lane and waves as I pass. I'm so used to not being seen at all, that the thanks catches me off guard. It takes a few seconds before I return the wave and merge into my original path of travel.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Anniversary of Doom

It dawned on me while sitting around a quiet table with friends yesterday evening that July 6 was the anniversay of my latest crash. Three years to the day. While crossing an intersection in Owensboro, KY on my way back to my office, a 21 year old kid pushed his 1989 Olds 98 over the speed limit and through the stop sign perpendicular to my line of travel. It was 2:30 in the afternoon, steamy, and I recall seeing the flash of the car's grill as it bounded out of a dip in the pavement and into the sunlight. Time ground to a standstill. I had enough time to think, "Oh, this is going to hurt." And then I was pimp-slapped by God. I had no idea something could strike me with that much energy. The force propelled me over the car's hood and into the windshield. Though I never saw it, the police and EMT's theorized that my head busted the glass. Impacting the curvature of the windshield shot me upwards and to the side in my direction of travel so that the rear of the car passed beneath me. I hit the ground on my left side and the bike, a 1995 Harley-Davidson XLH 1200, came to rest on it's right side a half a block south of my impromptu landing pad.

I had a few things leaning in my favor that day, things I attribute to my still sucking air today. I was wearing a full-face helmet. This was a big one for me. Three weeks before the crash, I'd decided I'd had enough of playing Russian roulette with the drivers around me and purchased the first lid I'd worn in five or six years. It wasn't anything spectacular, a basic all-around shell, foam, and visor. It cost me a little under a 100 bucks. I remember the first rides with it on, especially in late June, feeling like I was suffocating. I'd stop some place and pratically rip the thing off to get air.

Boots. I was wearing a well-worn pair of Red Wing lace-up work boots, the reddish Oxblood colored kind. The doctors told me that if I hadn't had on sturdy, above-the-ankle shoes, I'd have lost my right foot. Apparently, the car sandwiched my right leg between the grill and the bike. The leg snapped, moving the foot over and upward inside the skin toward my knee. I remained conscious all the way until they rolled me into the ER, where the numbness of shock wore off and the hazy sub-reality of morphine took over.

I always take a little time out of the day during my Anniversary to remember the police officer and EMT's who cared for me during the first moments following the accident. Each of them was a motorcyclist. At one point, I asked the officer what had happened to my bike and he said, "Uh...well, I wouldn't worry about that right now, bud." And then the EMT's whisked me onto a spine board and into the ambulance. Well, maybe not whisked. More like trundled. Trundled with extensive swearing supplied by me. During the ride to the hospital, the EMT told me about her bike and how she was considering selling it because of the all the accidents she'd witnessed over the years. To this day, I sincerely hope she hasn't.

I mark this anniversary as a special one not just because I survived, but because the experience changed my approach to riding forever. The helmet did it's job and although badly torn up, permitted me to arrive at the hospital with little more than a moderate concussion. I haven't ridden without one since. The EMT's cut the boots off. After I learned to walk on my reconstructed ankle, I had the Red Wings restitched only to find that I couldn't wear anything that laced up around the ankle. The constrictive leather aggravated the hardware in my leg. Though they're not as stylish, my kevlar reinforced, waterproof roadboots are almost as comfortable as those faded, old Wings. Almost.

And as for the Harley? She died with over 56,000 miles on the clock. The insurance company totaled her. When the adjuster met me at the bank to deliver my share of the HD's worth, he arrived on a BMW GS650. Though I was on crutches, that bike whispered something to me about the nature of my life on two wheels that I would spend the next nine months deciphering. That whisper transformed into an examination of the fundamental beliefs around why I turned to motorcycles in the first place, a calling to interpret the world through wind and speed, a steering of my spirit toward home.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Riders Rising

With the rising cost of gas, people are turning to motorcycles and scooters as efficient options for transport. As a result, a number of new and returning riders are appearing on the roads. Never a bad thing, right? With the number of riders on the rise, motorcycles are gaining attention in the media. Here's a prime example from The Washington Post. I've read several sources over the previous months citing many of the points outlined in the above article. Some new riders are purchasing their two-wheeled transport based solely on fuel economy. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't appreciate getting my dollar's worth at the pump, especially with the gallon in rural Kentucky climbing above the $4.00 mark. Safety, at least according to the above article, doesn't seem to be lacking. Record numbers of riders are enrolling in training courses across the country. Realistically, the number of new riders creates a demand disproportionate to the number of instructors and courses.

What concerns most long-term riders, this one included, is what will happen to these new converts as we progress toward the winter months. Here in the States, motorcycles make up a minute amount of the total vehicle traffic. Such a position gives rise to a particular bond among motorcyclists, a commonality that stretches across such boundaries as socioeconomic class, age, and brand affiliation. While some outright hositility exists between riders of various makes and models, most longriders will stop for a fellow rider stranded on the roadside regardless of what badge the tank carries. Truth be known, even in the recent past, there have been too few of us gracing the highways to let a simple thing like bike preference interfere with helping another motorcyclist.

It's homogenization of motorcycle "culture", if such a thing exists, that worries me the most. Do we teach, if only by example than no other method, to stop for a rider in need? Why do we wave to one another? These questions, and others similar to them, while not as immediate to the introduction to motorcycling as issues of training, are central to the passing on of this "culture" from one generation to the next, a generation measured in miles and stories told by gatherings at the road's edge.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Note from a Gypsy

Welcome to my little space under the stairs. It may not look like much, but pull up a cushion and get comfortable. You'll find the space sparsely furnished, a situation I hope to rectify over time. Check back every now and again and we'll see if I manage to add a few chairs to the circle. I intend these pages to chronicle my experiences as a motorcyclist. I'm a bit late getting started as I've been riding for the past fifteen years. So why start now? I survived a collision in the summer of 2005 that could very easily have killed me. When I review that day in my memory, I find myself coming painfully close to the concept of my own mortality, a condition, I believe, of which all bikers are aware to some degree. Having faced that realization and deciding to continue living life on two wheels, I'm also haunted by the idea of providing some tangible record for my brethren as well as outsiders should I suddenly find myself cruising the Lost Highway without having made plans to do so.

Over the last fifteen years and 200K+ miles, I've ridden a variety of machines. My current sled is the one you can see in the photo above, a 2006 Kawasaki Ninja 650R. I traded my '05 Ninja 250 in favor of a little more horsepower. In addition to the extra ponies, I received a balanced fuel-injection system, excellent braking power, and improved wind protection. All the above rolled into a bike designed for riders short in the inseam.

Previous to owning and riding Kawi's, I saddled a 1995 Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster, a beautiful aqua-pearl, thundering American V-twin. Its life tragically came to an end on July 6, 2005 at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon on the hood of a 1989 Oldsmobile 98. I nearly lost my right foot in the crash. Two surgeries, two steel plates and nine screws later, and I'm walking and riding again.

I briefly owned a 1993 Yamaha Virago 1100 before trading it in on the HD, which was the only good thing I did with the Yamaha. Never again. Stay away, kids, from the Virago 250, the only surviving member of that lineage, unless you have a strong preference for starter and wiring difficulties.

I piloted a 1982 Kawasaki LTD 440 for over four years and 35K miles. I reserve a special place in my heart and soul for this scooter as it was the first bike I owned capable of carrying me over the horizon without the constant use of a wrench. I've spent many an evening hunkered by a fire, watching the tarnished light flicker in my steed's deep black finish, savoring the thrum of roadsong echoing in my bones.

If you're familiar with motorcycles and motorcyclists at all, you've probably heard the statement: if I have to explain, you wouldn't understand. Perhaps that's true. It just may be that the only real way to glean understanding of the two-wheeled life is to hitch up your jeans, throw a leg over the top, and get into the wind. Here's to hoping that these pages, while insufficient to convey riding savvy itself, may nudge you a little further toward the practical experience. Ride long, ride safe, and ride free.