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.