Friday, November 27, 2009

Need a Lift

Since the ultimate deterioration of my fuel pump at the road's edge several weeks previous, I've experienced the overwhelming urge to begin doing some of the basic work on my bike. In the past, I handled much of the routine maintenance from oil changes to valve adjustments. Due to the amount of riding I've done in the last couple of years, I left much of that in the capable hands of certified mechanics. I no longer have a garage to call my own either, a fact I hope to remedy just as soon as I write that international best-seller. For the time being, my purchase of a rear-wheel stand permits me to perform basic care for my Ninja, chain adjustment and lubrication for instance. The stand makes oil changes less tedious.

From my earliest days of riding as a teenager, the motorcyclists with whom I associated encouraged rider maintenance of machine. Such practice familiarized the rider with the bike and, in the event of a breakdown far from home, that rider would likely be better equipped to sort out the underlying problem. Perhaps, such a rider might even possess the skill necessary for emergency roadside repair. And as any longrider can tell you, such spur of the moment fixes rely much on knowledge of the specific machine. The cycle I come to know at 50K miles will not be identical to the machine I rode out of the showroom. An intimacy between between operator and vehicle must be cultivated.

One need not tear the engine down to the block to develop such intimacy. For myself, merely peeling away the plastic skin and taking a good look at what lies beneath furthers that relationship. Though I lacked the ability to fix the problem at the edge of the road, knowing the sound of my fuel pump at start-up enabled me to correctly diagnose the issue. This comes from no real examination of the pump itself, but rather from the times I have sat next to the bike in a quiet place and laid my ear against the tank to listen to the workings after I have turned on the ignition. No problems to identify, but only to satiate my curiosity.

How is it that I know I have a stiff link in the final drive chain? At speed, the feel of the machine has changed, a vibration present now that did not exist one month ago. I feel a revolving sensation through the footpegs, a thrum that alternates between a soft and hard sensation. Lift the rear of the bike from the ground, peel away the covers, and rotate the rear wheel. Inspect each link as it revolves around the sprocket. There it is, a light binding in a single link. Then the intimacy begins. Cleaning and scrubbing the chain shows that it remains in positive condition with little corrosion and limited wear. The teeth of the sprockets are not hooked, still "toothed" rather than "finned". The scent of solvent and gasoline settle into my hands.

The bike is lowered. Gear donned. Rider and machine ease onto the highway for a test of the work. The vibration is gone, replaced by the constant, smooth buzz as the the transmission snicks through gears and the engine seems to pull the rear wheel along. It's this communion that reminds me, trapped in the narrow box of my office later in the week, that much of who and what I am exists only when in motion, in the graceful arc toward a tilted horizon.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's Tough Getting Old

I've noticed that when I'm experiencing a problem with the Ninja, I neglect my blog. Seems like this year, my machine developed a few more quirks and not those of character building variety. For instance, the computer that controls the fuel injection system will not always initialize the system on the first turn of the key. On occasion, I must turn the key to the off position, wait a few seconds, and then turn the power back on. This usually works and I can start the bike and ride with no interruption in fuel delivery. I enlisted the help of everyone from the dealer to my favorite local bike shop to examine the problem and they just shrug and tell me that the computer does not register any problems. I think maybe I'll try a fortune teller next. Couldn't hurt, right?

Several online 650R forums list fuel pump failure as a "rare but expensive" problem. They weren't kidding. Mine crapped out about a month ago. I figured this to the source of the erratic start up behavior, but I replaced the pump and nothing has changed. I worried that the inconsistent initialization of the fuel system damaged the first pump and now the replacement pump may be at risk. A new fuel pump costs around $250. A new computer sings to the tune of about $500. Here's the dilemma. With 53K miles on the clock of a $6500 bike, do replace these faulty components, or do I cobble the bike together until the engine cannibalizes itself or until I can afford a new motorcycle, whichever comes first. For the uninitiated, the first of the above choices occurs most frequently.

Until the inevitable, I comb the electrical system for shorts in between rides. I hate when a bike's age compromises it's long distance capability. Options at this point include owning a pickup truck, which I do, and purchasing a good roadside assistance service, which I have. However, my pickup is a Chevy, which means it works well about half the time. Fans of the all American automobile won't receive an apology from me. My next truck will be a Toyota. Not all roadside assistance programs are the same. I've learned to be careful and ask questions before buying. For example, AAA's basic programs don't cover motorcycles, not even so much as a tank of petrol should you run your horse dry. Coverage requires the additional purchase of the recreational vehicle subset. I simply tacked roadside assistance coverage to my insurance policy for a small fee.

Perhaps I'm being too much of a negative Nancy. Some postives arise from this point in a bike's aging process. The more riding I do, the more riding I want to do. I closely examine the machine I currently have, not physically necessarily, but with the eye of the mind. What does it have that I appreciate, power, speed, torque, flickability? As my mind wanders over the shaded lanes I imagine riding in the future, I ask myself what do I wish my current cycle had that it lacks? And I begin the long process of sifting through motorcycle propoganda searching for the "next bike", the machine with which I can turn those imagined lanes into twisting highways of reality. Even at this early stage, I can envision myself on something German or Italian, something sensuous that speaks not just to logic and need, but to that passion which ignites the spirit and new possibility.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Baked with Love

Was out for a quick ride the other day and came across the Bimbo Bakeries truck. The website states that their products are "always baked with love." I couldn't stop giggling in my helmet. Hmmmm....I wonder if they take custom orders?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rider on the Storm

While on the way home last week, I took shelter from this storm under the awning of a used car dealership on Highway 60 east of Louisville. I glimpsed the radar prior to leaving work and knew that a break in the front would allow me access to the northeast corridor of Interstate 71. Assessing that I had fair chance of making it to the house relatively dry, I pulled over to don the yellow crossing-guard-of-doom rain gear and wait on the nastiness to grind it's way southeast.

One of the maxims that I've come to appreciate in motorcycling regards expecting the unexpected. In general, this philosophy keeps a rider alive and is epitomized in such statements as "cover your controls" and "ride as if you're invisible". Being prepared for and riding in adverse weather exemplifies this practice. I haven't traveled without some form of rain gear on the bike in over a decade; the lesson came hard-learned. In my early twenties, I rode out of Owensboro, KY for a trip of about a hundred miles or so. When I left my apartment, the sun was shining, a light breeze blew the scent of drying tobacco through the woods and fields of southern Indiana, and the temperature barely crested 70. By the day's end, a storm system moved into the area and it started to rain. With only my leathers, I soaked to my skin quickly. The temperature dropped into the lower 60's. I discovered that the body can go hypothermic when wet in as comfortable a temperature as 60 degrees. Add in the wind chill factor and I'd slapped together a receipe for a near-death experience. The resulting pneumonia could have been prevented, in all likelyhood, by a thin layer of plastic.

During a lull in the storm last week, I decided to make a break for the interstate and try to stay ahead of the next wave of thunderstorms. What I hadn't counted on, indeed, what no one factors into the equation, was an accident blocking the north bound lanes of I-71. Before I could ride to the shelter of the rest area and nearest exit, the rain poured down. By the time I climbed off the bike and slouched in under the overhang of the area's vending pavilion, I could not longer see through the sheets of water and blinding lightning. The thunder beat my chest like a drum.

But I was dry, thanks to the thin, plastic rind of my rain suit. And reasonably safe under the roof of the shelter housing the vending machines. Motorcycling fosters patience. Ride long enough and far enough and the weather will turn against the rider, no matter how righteous his karma. The other lessen I learned during that sodden ride years ago was to listen to my gut. If my head busied itself with figuring routes around the storm and my heart stroked my ego with how tough I would be for motoring through a tempest to the far side, then heed the voice of caution, located somewhere between my lungs and my balls, and pull over. Prop myself up between some vending machines among the stray cigarette butts, close my eyes, and bask in the soft spray of hard rain.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Twist of the Wrist

I've recently realized that I'm not well connected to any form of motorcycle community. When I examine my own riding history and style, I find I've been that way most of my riding life. I usually ride alone. A benefit to solo travel includes being able to stack on as many miles as my skinny butt can handle without having to worry about my fellow riders stopping 300 miles before I'm ready. I've always written off some of the drawbacks to my anti-social tendencies. I'm talking about the loneliness that only a lone rider feels standing at 5,000 ft. on the Cherohala Skyway in March watching the clouds sift through the skeletal trees. Cheery, ain't it. Truth be told, I've never much cared for the company of other human beings, even my own kind. Riding the Ninja 650 doesn't exactly attract those motorcyclists in whose company I'd genuinely feel welcome. Most riders mistake it for a sport bike when it's really a standard with some plastic for show. As a result, I frequently draw the attention of the squids, whose vacant heads annoy me, who can not exercise restraint in spinning that yarn about how they crashed their precious GSXR-750 on the interstate while pulling a wheelie at 90 mph and can't wait to try the stunt again next week.

"Just as soon as I get another bike," they say, eyeing my 650 in a way that always makes my heart drop a little.

Another disadvantage to my lack of communion with the motorcycling general populace is that I often miss events like the one night only opening of Twist of the Wrist: Louisville Art on Motorcycle Culture. It just so happens that while screwing off....err....surfing the net at work last Thursday, I came across an article in the cyber version of the Louisville Eccentric Observer detailing the opening of the show and the lives of some of the artists exhibiting. The motorcyclists and artists interviewed for the piece described their love of vintage machines in particular. Having owned several quirky old bikes myself and cultivated a wallflower's interest in two-wheeled culture, I decided that this was something that I had to check out.

Now, I'm not going to wax poetic on the virtues of modern art or the reflection of society such art provides. I just don't have it in me and, frankly, I really don't care. Vintage bike society intrigues me while vintage bike artist society I find somewhat aloof and unreachable. While I'm not one of those riders to sit around and discuss the shaping effects of motorcycles on rebellion in our modern culture, I can appreciate a stunning photograph of a laced wheel strung with cobwebs as the machine to which it's attached slowly rusts into the forgotten ground of a motorcycle salvage yard. It appeals to the lonewolf in me. Sarah Lyon, a female rider, mechanic, and photographer, contributed the most stunning piece in the show, her bronzed pair of leather motorcycle harness boots, which witnessed 30,000 miles of Sarah's travels on two wheels. All of the small imperfections immortalized in those boots spoke to me in a way that reached past my intellect and kicked me somewhere in my gut.

And even this anti-social got a chance to practice his communication skills a little bit. Here's a few photos from outside the show that capture one of those rare moments when my keepers let me out from under the stairs.

Here I am discussing a Honda C350 project with another attendee

Gives new meaning to the term Iron Butt

Assorted scooter trash discussing the shaping effects of motorcycles on rebellion in our modern culture

In the end, for me, it's always about the bikes

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Open Sesame!!!!!!

Finally. The cap openeth and the stench of vaporized gas wafted forth. I, however, can't take credit for completing this puzzle. I attempted every chemical solution that I safely know how to perform in order to coax the lock into releasing. I called the local locksmith and he refused to examine the lock as soon as I informed him that it was a part of a motorcycle gas cap. In the end, I dropped the bike at the local dealership who called the locksmith who picked the tumblers of the stuck lock and exclaimed, "Who squirted all this stuff in here?"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


My last alchemical attempt to free the lock on the Ninja's gas cap has not been successful. An old friend suggested that I douse the lock with PB Blaster in the hope that the powerful solvent would allow the lock to be broken free. Even following repeated application and time to soak, the lock would not budge.

I'll have to remove the lock, possibly by drilling it, and force the teeth holding the cap to the tank to retract. This will destroy the cap which will require replacement, a scenario that I'd hoped to avoid due to the expense of purchasing a new assembly. Once again, I'll be consulting an old hand prior to any major surgical procedures.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Anniversary of Doom, Redux

Yesterday marked the four-year anniversary of my motorcycle crash. The accident changed my life in some very fundamental ways, such as how well I can walk, but the incident also pushed me to examine my attitude regarding motorcycling and the type of riding in which I truly wanted to engage. Read the full tale here. When my Harley was destroyed, it opened the door to new dimensions of motorcycling I'd previously not considered. Those interests evolved into sport-touring and renewed participation in motorcycle camping.

Over the past few days, however, I found myself reflecting back on my old American V-twin. I realized that I miss that troublesome machine, which has probably attributed to my browsing the local HD dealership and gazing longingly at the curves of all those chromed horses. Sometimes I close my eyes and still hear the lope of that 1200 engine, a stumbling gait at low idle, a steady roar at 2500 rpm through 3/4 inch drag pipes. The affinity between rider and motorcycle approaches the spiritual. Ride any machine long enough and it makes a mark upon the rider that passes through the flesh, tattooing the soul. Long after that machine passes out of the rider's life, the memory of it calls back to him across time, like a name shouted in the wind.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Locked Out

The liquid graphite failed to ease the gas cap lock into functioning. I thought, perhaps, that if I removed the lock ring from around the cap and lock mechanism, I'd be able to reach the outside of the lock. Unfortunately, that's not how the cap is constructed. The outer ring functions simply as a stabilizer and alignment device for the actual cap. Due to the fact that the cap is hinged to the lock ring, the lock ring can not be removed by unbolting it from the tank. The teeth engaged through the lock hold the entire assembly in place even when the lock ring's bolts have been removed.

I'm going to seek assistance from some older riders to see what they suggest. And a few prayers to the gods of the open road probably wouldn't hurt either.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Frozen in the Height of Summer

I've been having some trouble with the locking mechanism on the Ninja's gas cap for a couple months. It's been stiff and difficult to turn the key in the lock. I've said to myself over and over that when I got a few spare minutes, I'd lubricate the lock and the latch components below. As I was indisposed last week, I was unable to ride. I returned home to discover that the lock had seized. I am attempting to free the stubborn bastid by injecting liquid graphite into the lock.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's Raining; It's Pouring....

Ride to Work day transformed into squelch to home day and kicked off a week laden with spotty but dangerous weather. The Ohio River Valley witnessed brief but powerful storms this week. The one we experienced this morning was enough to knock out the power at work. I've had to don the crossing guard of doom rain gear more than once this week.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ride to Work Day

Today is the 18th annual Ride to Work Day. In the past, the day was observed in July. A change was made to a Monday in June in order to better promote the idea of motorcycles for transport to the general public. This year, Ride to Work Day is endorsed by the Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme in the international community.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

50 Years of Honda

Honda celebrated fifty years in the United States this week. On June 11, 1959, American Honda Motor Company, Inc. was formed in Los Angeles, California. Honda is given credit for revolutionizing the American motorcycle industry with the release of the step-through model seen above, the Honda 50. This machine helped coin Honda's signature pitch, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda."

Honda also celebrates their introduction to the world of motorcycle racing this week. In 1959, Honda debuted at the Isle of Man TT Race. The company has plans to commemorate their anniversary with special events to be held at the 2009 race.

Read a little more about it at Clutch and Chrome and the LA Times.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Murder Cycles

Lounging in the cool dark of my local cinema for a matinee screening of Terminator Salvation, I witnessed the debut of several new Terminator machines. Among these killers are the moto-terminators, an automated, two-wheeled death dealer based on Ducati's Hypermotard platform.

Camping and Riding the Smokies, Part One

On April 2 of this year, I squeezed a few days out of a hectic work schedule to ride into the Cherokee National Forest for a few days. When traveling by motorcycle, I'm always partial to camping by bike. It's a bit more complicated than riding up to the motel and checking in, but the rewards measure out in my enhanced peace of mind and sense of self-sufficiency. I took few photos of the ride to the area. I got a late start and worried that once I hit the mountains, I'd lose the light while trying to find a suitable campsite. However, I generally follow Route 127 south through Kentucky and into Tennessee. Route 68 branches off and passes through Tellico Plains, my usual entry point into the Smokey Mountain area.

A view of Tennessee
State Route 68.

Options for camping while riding the Smokies vary depending on the level of comfort the rider desires. Motorcycle campgrounds like Hunt's Lodge located just south of Tellico Plains on the aforementioned route 68, offer amenities sometimes lost in more primitive camping, such as hot showers and laundry facilities. Usually, I opt for one of these campgrounds and there are several to choose from in the region. They provide a more secure setting for leaving gear unattended and companionship when returning from a long day in the saddle.

I wanted more solitude than usual and chose a primitive location at Spivey Cove, a campground situated along the Tellico River. The location is over 15 miles east into the mountains from Tellico Plains. To my knowledge, there is no gas or cell phone service available once exiting Tellico Plains. Following the signs for the Cherohala Skyway will lead to Tellico River Road on which Spivey Cove campground is positioned. River Road, a single lane of asphalt, winds along the valley against the flow of the water. It's easy to let the eyes wander from the road for long stretches, but the road is shared by fisherman, kayakers, hikers, and fellow motorcyclists. Missing a curve could result in a deadly fall into the river.

River Road and the Tellico River

The road leading into Spivey Cove

Being the middle of the week, the campground hosted no occupants other than myself. I chose as remote a spot as possible relative to the campground entrance, a level shelf on the side of a hill encircled by pines. While the Cove had pit toilets, there were no showers or plumbing carrying drinking water. The only source of water, a small stream running down the mountain to feed the Tellico River. The nearest ranger station was 12 miles to the west near where River Road joins the Skyway. I arrived with enough light to set up the tent, a $30 purchase from Wal-Mart, by the way, and to gather a little firewood before settling down with a cup of coffee, a book, and the breath of the wind through the trees.

Unloading the machine

Setting up the tent

Home sweet home, at least for the next three days

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Be Aware

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Groups such as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the National Safety Council in the United States utilize programs to increase awareness of motorcycles in regards to those who share the roadway with us. The MSF's Motorist Awareness Tips outline ten points all motorists should know about motorcycles, and the Foundation launched a website, For Car Drivers, designed specifically to educate drivers to the particular hazards faced by motorcyclists. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gets in on the act with it's Share the Road campaign.

While I applaud the above organizations for their efforts in educating non-riders, May is also a time when we as motorcyclists should be examining our own habits. When was the last time any of us took part in an MSF certified training course? Certain manufacturers offer rider education programs of their own, like Harley's Rider's Edge program. Do we check our gear, assuming we wear it, for signs of break down and does that gear need to finally be replaced? Sites like Rock the Gear, started as a collaborative effort between Brittany Morrow, known as the Road Rash Queen, and the MSF, promote a postive combination of proper riding technique and modern motorcycle-specific safety gear. Ultimately, it's up to the rider to determine just how much polish the rider's skills and gear require.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Because it was my birthday on the First, I spent the afternoon at my local Triumph Motorcycle dealer, Commonwealth Motorcycles. One of my colleagues clued me in to the fact that Commonwealth was offering demo rides on select models of the Triumph line. All I needed was a clean driver's license, a helmet (and other gear I deemed necessary for my safety), and the willingness to swear that I wouldn't break any laws, including the posted speed limit. So the sales team scanned my driver's license, and I signed my name on the dotted line, with my fingers crossed behind my back, of course. I spent a small chunk of my afternoon tooling around downtown Louisville astride the Triumph Street Triple.

Derived from the Daytona 675, the mill of the Street Triple has been tuned to provide riders with more mid-range usability than it's race-bred counterpart. After learning to negotiate with the touchy throttle, I exited the parking lot and, with a quick twist, vanished down East Jefferson St. The exhaust note is throaty with the bike at a standstill but let out the reigns a bit and the engine winds out with the same high-pitched whistle found in any Japanese crotch rocket. Sitting on the machine, I leaned farther forward than I'm normally accustomed and the position, though a "standard" one, felt awkward. The mirrors made me feel claustrophobic mounted as they were on the bars and not on any bodywork. All of my misgivings while astride the bike in the parking lot evaporated when I took to the street. The Triple feathers through corners, light and airy in it's handling. Effortless snicking through the transmission had me checking the digital readout to be sure which gear I entered, and the bike yeilded few if any flat spots. The brakes drag the machine down from speed with precision. I could actually see something other than my shoulders in the mirrors!

I circled through the east end of town in what I considered to be a long loop. Lifting the visor upon my return to the dealership, there wasn't need to ask whether I enjoyed the ride or not. My grin said it all. After describing my route to the mechanic, he simply nodded and said, "You sure weren't gone very long."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Headin' to the Boneyard

I stopped to fill up at the Pilot station in Sligo, KY and spotted this whole flatbed full of bad luck. Seriously, I hope none of the riders ended up at that great Hole in the Wall in the sky. Just a none too gentle reminder to ride like you're invisible.


Back in August, my wife and I attended a special screening of Long Way Down, the two-hour director's cut, in a local theater. Unfortunately, I wasn't a subscriber to the channel on which the entire series aired starting later that same evening. I thought I'd post the preview from that series here. Enjoy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Long Way...Through?

As a big fan of the original book and television series, Long Way Round, I was excited to learn that Ewan and Charlie planned another epic adventure. This time, the pair planned to ride from the point farthest north in Scotland to the furthest point south in Africa, a trip of nearly 15K miles. They rode in the shadow of the pyramids, cruised along the Nile, and dodged elephants in the deserts of Namibia. The two visited several charities throughout the trip, including Unicef and Riders for Health, an organization of motorcycle riders delivering medications to those without access to those medications throughout rural Africa. The friends stopped in Rwanda to visit the sites of horrific genocide. As usual, they sampled the cuisine of each country through which they passed.

So why am I not as satisfied with Long Way Down as I remember being when finishing my read of Round? I picked up and read Round as a paperback before I watched the TV series. When I finally purchased and viewed the actual video series, I was doubly amazed with the magnitude of the journey. With Long Way Down, I'm already aware that the series for television exists. The book, constructed in the same manner as Round, that is, Ewan and Charlie alternate as the narrator of their tale, served merely to whet my appetite for what I believe will undoubtedly be another monumental piece of motorcycle film making.

I cite only minor annoyances with the book. At one point, Ewan's wife, Eve, visited the pair and traveled with them for about one week. The book's narrator's continue unaltered in their telling of their tale, though they separated following Eve's arrival. I would like to have seen entries in the book by Eve, as she becomes such an integral part of the story for a short while. While the pair do little to acknowledge the effect of Eve's arrival on the overall mood of the journey, it's clear that she acts as a sort of antagonist against the two friends. Permitting Eve to use her own voice as a narrator could perhaps have diminished her standing as an outsider. It also would have created structurally in writing what occurred thematically in the book.

Though I found the book to be a slower read than the first time I experienced Ewan and Charlie's writing, Long Way Down's worth the read. In the least, it peaks the interest and may act as a primer for the video series. I spent most of this last weekend watching the Round series again and hoping that Long Way Down would live up to the legacy of it's predecessor. What I truly enjoy about the books and the series is that it steers readers and viewers away from the stereotype of the biker as an American outlaw. We can ride long and hard, be free in the wind whether on this continent or another, sleep under the open sky, and still retain our sense of compassion for one another and the human race in general.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shifting Gear

Time really can get away from me. I was trolling around some of my favorite forums and reading blog entries when I realized that I haven't posted to my own blog in over a month. And a lot has happened in the previous thirty days to post a few updates. I put the Ninja in the shop for a few days...well, a few days transformed into about three weeks while I waited for a valve cover gasket to arrive from Jupiter or some place. I replaced the rear tire. I chose another Bridgestone Battleaxe as I'm drawing between 12 and 15K miles from each one. The valves were adjusted, the air filter replaced, fuel filter renewed, rear brake pads installed, and oil and filter changed. Despite the wait for parts, the bike was returned to me by the shop dialed in and running as if I'd just ridden off the showroom floor.

I finally got around to replacing my aging Joe Rocket Ballistic 4.0 jacket with the Motoboss 3/4 textile jacket in the photo above. The Rocket leaked at each vent and, I believe, some of the seams. Given that the Ballistic was over three years old and had seen nearly 50K miles in weather ranging from light rain to snow, I figured it worthy of retirement. I'm pleased with the Motoboss thus far. I've had the occasion to be caught out in heavy rain while wearing it and wasn't disappointed with the quality of rain resistance. Waterproofing has always been tricky at best when it comes to motorcycle gear.

"Is it waterproof," I've asked.

"That depends," is the response. "Waterproof like light drizzle...yes. Waterproof like a midget dipped in liquid"

I'm pleased to announce that the salesman for my Alpinestars boots was indeed correct. Over the previous month and then some, the stiffness gradually faded away. These boots are indeed some of the most comfortable road boots I've ever had the fortune in which to stomp around. While not at the stage of a comfortable well-worn pair of sneakers, I'm pleased that I can spend the day in them and not pull them off in the evening nursing blisters. Did I mention they're Italian. Oh, yes....Italian.

I spent a few days at the beginning of April camped in the Cherokee National Forest of eastern Tennessee. I'll post the photos I've taken later, including some shots from the Dragon by Killboy. I met a variety of individuals in the few days I camped and rode the area. The hospitality shown to motorcyclists in the region always amazes me. Whether I've visited in the height of summer or during the birth of the season as I did this most recent trip, I'm never disrespected by the locals. My thoughts inevitably spin to planning the next ride into breathtaking Appalachia, sometimes before the mountains have even disappeared from my mirrors.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'

With the advent of a new riding season, I required a replacement for my three and a half year-old Cortech Solution waterproof road boots. Over the last six months, the waterproofing of the boots has become dubious. The harder the rain, the more water works it's way past the seals. Lately, "hard rain" has become a broad category. Often, I'd climb off the bike at work and squelch my way down the hall to my office, doomed to wander the corridors in wet socks for the day.

To be fair, the Cortech's have seen nearly 50K miles of on-cycle use. If I'm riding, I spend the day in my boots, strolling around the office. While on tour, I hike short trails in them, provided my right ankle can take the strain. The bottoms of the no-slip rubber soles have been worn smooth. Fine white stress lines web the outer leather shells, and the soft, inner material, known as K-315, has degraded to a hard, flat panel, like walking on a piece of balsa wood. Small chunks of K-315 occasionally attach themselves to my socks for a free ride through the house.

Like saying farewell to an old friend, I have a hard time discarding something as comfortable as an aging pair of boots. Seems to me, the longer I utilize a boot, the more hospitable an environment they prove to be for my feet. In fact, the Cortech's haven't made it to the trash yet. Visitors to our house discover them sitting neatly by the door, leaning against the Alpinestar Web Gore-tex boots I purchased to replace them. Why replace them? There are two areas that just seem to make the world a brighter place when they're dry. The first is my testicles, and running a close second, I appreciate toasty lower digits. There's nothing quite like the sensation of water slowly soaking into socks, like milk supersaturating cereal left too long uneaten in the bowl.

When shopping for replacements, several factors play a role in my choice for the next pair. Waterproofing is a must. No squish, squish. While I'm not interested in winning a fashion show by any means, boots with style add a little flair to any motorcyclist's ensemble. Basic black remains a static choice with me. Then there's the practical things to consider. Dry boots mean dry feet which keeps feet healthy, especially between those lower digits I mentioned earlier. Nothing like intolerable athelete's foot to cause problems at 70+ mph. The Alpinestars have hard armor on both sides of the ankle and the shin. The Cortechs do not, which is the main reason influencing my decision, comfortable and reliable though they may be, not to purchase a second pair. I evaluate not only the motorcycle with the dawn of the spring season, but the effectiveness of the gear I use as well.

After shelling out the cash, I slide into my new boots for the ride home and stuff the Cortechs into the saddle bags. I grimace a little as I walk out of the store. The Alpinestars are a little stiff. "Don't worry," the salesmen calls after me, "they'll break in after a while. There's nothing like a pair of Italian leather boots. After a while, they'll be as comfortable as an old pair of tennis shoes."

Oh yes, Italian; I think my new boots and I are going to become old friends.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Long Time, No Post

We've had an eventful February here in northern Kentucky, first the ice storm followed by the wind storm. Both catastrophies were accompanied by loss of power. At one point, I was unable to make the drive to work for three consecutive days. Normally, I'd relish the idea, except when it's only 35 degrees inside my house. Throughout all of this, brief windows offering the opportunity to ride have presented themselves. When the sun peeled away the gray overhang and the snow dwindled to a less than treacherous accumulation, I'd fire up the 650, plug in the Widder vest, and cruise down to the local Waffle House for a steaming cup of java.

Plunked down at the counter, with a little Patsy Cline whirling out of the juke box, I'd dream of the coming spring and the empty highway. That's one thing that a long, cold winter's good for is dreaming. All ready, I'm thinking of the twisting asphalt paths through the Smokies. I'm fantasizing about that perfect campsite on the edge of the lake where I can watch the fish flash in the sun before dropping with a plop back into the water. Most important, I'm wishing for a machine with the pre-season maintenance completed: new rear tire and brake pads, new filter elements for fuel line and air cleaner, oil and filter changed, spark plugs swapped out, coolant changed, valve adjustment completed.

I guess I can sit and sigh over the vision of spring yet to come, or I can drag my lazy butt off the stool at the awful waffle and hunker down in the driveway with the toolbox. Despite the lack of practicalities completed, I've put in my request with the employer for a little time free from the trenches during the first week of April. Now if I can just get the inside of my head and the outside in the driveway to meet in the middle, I'll be a contented man.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Every Now and Zen

I'll be the first to admit that I've never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in it's entirety. I've picked it up several times and worked my way into it's pages only to pull away when my admittedly short attention span became entranced by something requiring a little less work to enjoy. Thanks to Mark Richardson's book, Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I know I'm no longer alone in that sentiment. In his book, the author makes reference to having begun Zen and the Art several times before cultivating the discipline to complete the read and then returns to Pirsig's book a second time in order to develop an enjoyment of the work.

It is following this second passage, completed on the author's 41st birthday, that Mr. Richardson begins to plan his own motorcycle journey. He will retrace the Zen route, planning to remain as true to the original work as possible. The author has done his research through referencing several guidebooks and by communicating via letter with the Pirsig family. Just prior to his 42nd birthday, Mr. Richardson sets off on his Suzuki DR600 to follow Pirsig's narrator west from Minneapolis to San Francisco. The author transforms into what his book refers to as a Pirsig Pilgrim or Zen Pilgrim. In his travels west, the author stops at locations mentioned in Zen and the Art and contacts persons depicted in the original work.

As Mr. Richardson will tell you, Zen and the Art isn't really about motorcycles at all. Robert Pirsig used the journey by motorcycle of son and father as a metaphore for investigations philosophical. Zen and Now isn't really concerned with motorcycles either. Following the original route, Mr. Richardson examines how the Zen and the Art philosophy impacted his own life. The author reflects on his relationships with the people closest to him, mainly his wife and children, and contemplates the Quality of his life. The meaningfullness of the writer's life parallels the autobiographical text in Zen and Now on the Pirsig family. In the end, it's not so much redemption offered up by Mr. Richardson as the opportunity for enlightenment, both for himself and the reader's view of the Pirsig family.

While the book contains no photos of the journey, for it doesn't truly require any, pictures from the author's journey can be found at the companion website, Zen and Now.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Indian Reborn

Indian Motorcycle has announced the opening of it's first seven dealerships. The 2009 Indian Chief will be produced as a limited production model. A grand total of 750 motorcycles will roll off the line this year. The company promises the expansion of it's dealership network in it's press release by July 2009. The company will also produce a line of apparel to include jackets, pants and jeans, footwear, and a line of accessories.

The new Chief will be powered by a 105 cubic inch air-cooled engine, the Power Plus, complete with fuel-injection. The drive train will consist of a six-speed gear box and a belt final drive. The bike weighs in at just under 800 pounds. The Chief line includes four variations, the Standard, Deluxe, Roadmaster, and Vintage. I'm partial to the Vintage. With it's sloping, classic fenders, chrome guards and grab rails, leather fringed seat, and white-wall tires, undoubtably, it is a rolling work of art. An expensive work of art, the bike cashes in at a little over $35,000 according to the brochure on the company's website. While I admire the machine's lines and timeless detail, I'm afraid with a price tag like the one listed above, I'll only be admiring from afar.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Video with a Twist

Looking for something to chase away the winter doldrums? Discovery Turbo Channel offers motorcyclists the opportunity to view several series of videos taken from popular television programs aired on the Discovery Channel, including the American Chopper and Biker Build-Off series. While I do enjoy watching the production of a chopper, there's only so much dysfunctional family drama centered around American iron I can take.

Of particular interest to this rider was the Twist the Throttle series. Twist focuses on the manufacturers from around the world, including a few Japanese, Italian, and British companies. The episodes provide a brief overview of each company's history, such as Kawasaki's start as a shipping company or Bimota's beginning as a heating and air conditioning business. Each episode progresses through how and where that particular brand of motorcycle is manufactured to an enticing exploration of a brand's iconic models, such as Honda's CBR1000RR.

With limited riding time through the colder months, I'm always looking for methods of keeping my wanderlust in check. A few good books and a series like Twist keep me dreaming of open highway, dry pavement, and the sun on my back.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Here's the video of Robbie Maddison's New Year's Eve jump in Vegas. Yup, gravity still works.