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."