Friday, December 23, 2011

Who Says You Can't Tilt a Harley?

One of those fabulous displays of police motorcycling skill discovered on Google Video during the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lights Out

I've experienced some trouble with the auxiliary lights that were included with the purchase of my BMW 1150 RT. What I suspect started months ago as an intermittent short in one of the lights grew into a full failure of the brake-side fog light in the early days of December. After I returned from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I noticed, particularly at night, as I went over a bump in the road, the light would flicker and sometimes go out. Another bump and the light would return. I decided that in order to ascertain whether the problem lay in the fog light itself or somewhere in the spaghetti junction of wires and leads, I needed to work my way back toward the harness and test the leads as I went.

My first approach was to check the bulb, socket, and the wires leading directly from the fog light housing. I hoped for a simple loose or bad bulb, easy in and easy out. When I removed the top caliper mounting bolt, which also secures the light housing, the bolt was difficult to break loose. I applied some WD40 and when the bolt still refused to turn freely, I applied heat via a propane torch. I feared that the bolt had seized somehow in the caliper. Upon removal my fears were confirmed. The silver on the mounting screw indicates that the threads from the caliper had twisted out with the bolt. The most likely culprit would be mismatched metals between the aftermarket mounting hardware and the stock brake caliper. I decided to remove the right side fog light as well. While the mounting bolt disengaged without a hitch, it showed a remarkable amount of corrosion on the threads.

The errant bulb theory didn't pay out as it appeared to be in good operating condition, no discoloration of any kind. When I tested the socket I received no current. I decided to trace the wire to the first lead and test the connection at the lead. As the wiring extended beyond view under the gas tank, the tank needed to be removed before I could proceed. With the self-sealing quick connectors in the fuel lines and the accessibility of all parts required to disconnect from the RT's right-hand side, the RT's tank has to be one of the simplest tank removal systems I've run across.

Until I can properly repair the short in the system, I decided to remove the aftermarket equipment as a precaution and install original equipment mounting hardware in the front brake calipers. I discovered that not all of the threads for the left hand caliper had twisted loose and a significant enough portion remained to accept the OEM hardware and hold the caliper in position. The leads remain in place, taped and held with fresh zip ties, should I decide to install any additional equipment of my own.

Over the past six months of ownership, I've come to appreciate the simplicity of the Beemer's stock systems. The valves are easy to adjust. In fact, it takes more time to remove the body panels than to actually adjust the valves. The wiring and connectors all seem to be located in logical areas and are simple to separate. It seems as if the machine is put together with a rider in mind, one who is encouraged to do his or her own work. My complaint with many aftermarket parts lies in the fact that they are often complex for the sheer sake of complexity or are not manufactured to specifications comparable to standard equipment. As it stands, I converted the bike back to the simple, stock setup. And in my book, simple is just plain better.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Riding the Ridge: Interlude--The Road to Willville

My first night camping in the Shenandoah National Park left me a little wary of the experience the following day. I'd spent a near 200 miles in the saddle during my second day on the Blue Ridge, and I hoped to find a more comfortable place to lay my head than I found in Mathew's Arm the previous evening. One of the truly remarkable pleasures of traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway by motorcycle lies in the abundance of cycle only campgrounds sprinkled at regular intervals beginning at roughly the half way point when running the Parkway from north to south. For the uninitiated, these spots are campgrounds that cater only to motorcyclists or, in certain cases, those travelers towing motorcycles.

I pulled in to Willville Motorcycle Campground located off of the Parkway at mile marker 177. A few miles west on Route 58 revealed a gravel drive and a large orange sign announcing the bike camp to the left of the road. What Willville offers, like many of the motorcycle only campgrounds I've had the pleasure of visiting, is the company of others of the two-wheeled persuasion. In my experience, camaraderie can be in short supply in campgrounds frequented by RV's, families squeezed into minivans, or school buses packed with cub scouts. MC camps offer amenities that rarely are standard at conventional campgrounds, such as laundry facilities to accommodate motorcycle gear, some form of communal shelter, hot showers, and often times coffee and other beverages for a small donation.

Willville was more pleasant than most. From the moment I arrived and established my camp in the grass (no gravel tent pads here), the owner and other riders went out of their way to make me feel as if I'd been there for days. I parked my butt in one of the easy chairs under the shade of the central pavilion and didn't leave the camp for two days.

I managed to meet a few of the regulars as well as a couple others like myself just passing through. One oldtimer promised to send anyone who would drop him an email a list of all known gas stops within one mile of exiting the Parkway. He'd built the list over years of traveling the roadway himself and information gleaned from those passing by. I was tempted to stick around through the early part of the coming weekend to take part in a Ural rally that would call the camp home over about three days. From the stories my fellow campers told, riders of the unique Russian marque are as charismatic as their machines. But being a youngin' (not yet retired), quite a few more miles of Parkway beckoned before I had to turn the Beemer west toward Kentucky. I left on a Friday morning, heading south.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Too Bad the Writing Doesn't

Last Christmas, my wife purchased several books off of my Amazon wish list. As one of those typical motorcyclists who will probably find the opportunity to tour exotic places by bike a distant dream, I've been rather fond of reading the exciting accounts of those riders who actually manage to pull it off. While I dearly love to read the exploits of Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, it's always intriguing to stumble upon a book written by one of the rest of us. The not so super rich, that is.

When I added The Road Gets Better from Here to my list of must-reads, the title and subtitle fascinated me. The photo on the cover is absolutely spectacular. Surely, this must be the book that exemplifies how the rest of us would tour the Road of Bones through the former Soviet Union. I know I couldn't afford a fully loaded BMW GS1200, the helmet cams, the support crews with all the spare parts. My friends certainly wouldn't have come along for the ride. Most would have had me committed for even suggesting the idea. I want to ride my motorcycle around the world. Really? Wait right here; I have a special white coat I want you to try.

I appreciate everything about Mr. Scott's adventure--the audacity of climbing on an enlarged dirt bike and heading out into foreign countries, the magnitude of the time involved in the journey, the limited resources of the common man dedicated to a dream. I appreciate everything except the narrative. It reads like a blog entry--a 400 page blog entry. After about the first hundred pages, I felt as I'd been bouncing along on the passenger pillion across the rutted landscape. That's not a good thing; it's a KLR650 we're talking about here. I was tired and worn out. I kept having to refer back in the book to remember what nondescript person in which nondescript country I was reading about. In short, the narrative is tedious, and that's without the typing errors.

I've put off writing this review for so long because I've desperately wanted to like Mr. Scott's effort at mototravel journeling. My disappointment in this book is in that it doesn't begin to convey the panache of such a journey. While the book gives us the facts of the trip, it fails to entertain the reader. Traveling by motorcycle on a limited budget isn't just a challenge for most of us, it's a fact of life. Mr. Scott, however, should have used the funding he saved from the trip and spent it on an editor.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gateway to the Gorge

Over the weekend, I took the Beemer on a short excursion to the Red River Gorge Geological Area located to the southeast of Lexington, KY. I was hoping to catch the last of the fall foliage. Traffic through the area was minimal. The temperature may have had something to do with it. In the sunshine, the temps rarely crossed out of the upper 40's. At night, they dipped into the high 30's. While the leaves have passed their peak, enough of the fire of Autumn still clings to the branches to make the ride worthwhile.

The Nada Tunnel runs an east/west route into the heart of the Gorge. Originally cut through the rock with steam-powered drills, dynamite, and hand tools, the tunnel was completed in 1911 and was the only through way to the Gorge's interior. The tunnel was designed to accommodate 25 and 35 ton locomotives used to haul timber from the interior to the saw mill at Clay City. The Clay City mill, at one time, was the largest in the eastern United States.

According to local lore, only one man was killed during the construction of the railway tunnel. Apparently, he attempted to thaw several sticks of frozen dynamite by the heat of his campfire and well. . .

The tunnel is 900' long, around 20' in height, and 15' wide. The excavation crews began the project in 1910 and completed it in a little over a year in 1911. Given the tools of the times, the tunnel is a marvel of early 20th century engineering.

As a gateway into the Red River Gorge, the Nada Tunnel prepares the eye for the stunning vistas of the rock formations and blaze of Autumn color that lies beyond. The valley in which the Red River flows has been home to human beings for over 14,000 years; the earliest evidence of people living in the region can be found in the artifacts they left behind in cliff shelters. As I threaded my way along the narrow road under fading trees, listening to the river shush it's way through the valley, I wondered what I would leave behind for others to find. Perhaps only an echo of my passing, lone horse and it's rider.

Rescue Attempt

This video arrives via my wife who discovered it posted to The footage illustrates how, even in the midst of an endurance rally in South America, a Beemer rider will stop to perform a little charity work.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Riding the Ridge, Part One

In the early part of July 2011, I decided to test the BMW's worthiness on the road and embarked on a journey that would ultimately take me down the Blue Ridge Parkway from it's northern to southern terminus. The first day of the trip I spent on the interstate heading north through Cincinnati and Columbus where I turned west on interstate 70 through Wheeling and into Western Pennsylvania. After spending a few days at my father's house, I turned the bike south through Maryland and into northern Virginia and Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive.

I slept that first night in the park at Mathew's Arm, a campground positioned at about the 22 mile mark along the Drive. I wish I could say that the stay was pleasant, but the gnats along the parkway must have been holding their annual world conference. The winged pests were in such thick numbers that all of my photos along Skyline Drive contained the dark flecks of their pulpy little bodies. While the bike was in motion, the windscreen deflected most the bugs, but as soon as all forward momentum ceased, they descended on you in a horde. Stopping to converse with other riders at one of the plentiful and otherwise beautiful overlooks was always accompanied by constant waving of limbs.

My first day along the parkway was spent in the good graces of the weather gods. I always seemed to be where the rain was not. At one particular turn off, I was standing in the sunshine when another rider heading north stopped to inform me that the sky had opened just a few miles south and a deluge had commenced. He advised me to use caution; it was raining hard enough that he was having trouble navigating. When I resumed travel, I never encountered anything further south than wet pavement, the vapor already rising into the hot July air in thin wisps.

The storms diminished the gnat population. Even being near the tumultuous weather provided a relief from their incessant buggery. I have yet to be able to explain the reason behind their disappearance, but the gnats just ceased to exist the further south I traveled. They didn't gradually dwindle away; they just stopped altogether. I don't know if this was caused by weather change, elevation, a change in habitat. Whatever the reason, I was glad to be rid of them. It would mean more agreeable environment while off the Beemer.

I'm always surprised at the mini wasteland accompanying the transition from Skyline Drive and the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It appears as if there was once a gas station and perhaps a small hotel just at the convergence of these two roads. They've been abandoned for years, just shells left from a different time. I always mean to stop and snap a few photos of the place, but never manage it when I pass by. It still strikes me as one of the loneliest places in the world. It's the type of emptiness created by distant, fading memory.

Skyline Drive, according to the guard manning the gate upon my arrival, was undergoing maintenance, mostly repaving. Much of the blacktop looked fresh enough to worry me in areas where the pavement was wet. I suspect that the rider who warned me of heavy rain earlier in the day experienced oil skimming the road surface following such a sudden downpour. The speed limits along the Drive demand a more sedate pace than I normally prefer, but with wet areas and fresh paving, I kept the RT only slightly over the mandated limits.

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers numerous points for quiet reflection. During my first day of riding, I passed through the highlands of northern Virginia on my way to my second camp in the lower elevations of the Virginia midlands. The country isn't the only thing that changes. Life, along with the accents of the people I had the good fortune to meet, slowed as I rode south. Toward my second stopping point, grits began to appear on the menus of the small town restaurants in which I sought respite from the heat. As I turned off the Parkway in the late afternoon, I could feel my spirit leaning West like a compass. Somewhere across the misty ridges of the Appalachians, the old bones of the mountains tumbled down into the foothills of the Bluegrass State. But the high elevations of North Carolina awaited before I would turn the bike toward home. For now, it was time to camp.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Essence of Machine

Every now and again, I come across something on the web that exemplifies the spirituality behind riding and wrenching on bikes. This video is one of those somethings.

MACHINE from matt machine on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Tools: Google Maps

As a way of peaking my interest in roads a bit closer to the city, I've been tooling around with the Terrain function on Google Maps. It's been a useful way of locating the twisty roads within a stone's throw of the homestead. Prime examples are Route 1526, Route 1020, and Route 44 snaking through the hill country just south of Louisville and the Jefferson Memorial Forest.

View Larger Map

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall Fever

I finally managed to squeeze a little cash out of the monthly budget to replace the dead battery in the Ninja. After a bit of coaxing, the bike fired over and settled into a smooth idle. Since the bike's been sitting for a while, I worked my way through the preflight checklist. The oil level seemed fine, and I had filled the tank prior to parking the bike one month ago. Brake fluid and light checked out. Turn signals were operational. Time to ride.

Manslick Rd. skirts the southern edge Iroquois Park in South Louisville before topping a ridge into the St. Andrews area. For a brief four or five miles, this road twists through some marvelous fall foliage inside the Louisville city limits. And while the curves tempt a rider to push the envelope, the sheer number of mailboxes decorating the roadside provides a warning as to the possibility of vehicles entering the traffic around blind corners.

I'd forgotten about how much fun the Ninja can be on a piece of blacktop threaded through the woods. The 650, particularly following a few months on the much heavier BMW, makes me feel like a fighter pilot. The Ninja dives into the corners. The bike encourages me to hang a knee off the side. After sliding through a corner, the Ninja seems to say, "Now let's turn around and take it again like we're supposed to."

I used to believe that I didn't have room in my life for more than one machine. Today, dodging through the dappled shadows under the fading leaves, I realize that I have enough room in my life for whatever awakens that desire to see what's around the next bend in the road.

Ride safe.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kein Kraut für Mich, Bitte

I spent most of the month of April 2011 searching the Cycle Trader ads for used Kawasaki Concours 1000's. I'd decided after some discussion with my wifey that a dealership bike would be preferable. We learned that we might still stand a chance of financing a later model through Kawasaki. Therefore, I limited my selection to bikes ranging from 2004 to 2006. What I located was a 2004 near Canton Ohio. The dealership was a 350 mile trip from my residence and I had the weekend to do it.

I called the dealer. They had the bike and assured me that it was a remarkable specimen of the late model variety. I asked them about the price (around $3500 with under 20K on the meter) and they indicated they'd be willing to negotiate provided I could slap down a significant down payment. I could. I called on a Friday and told them to expect me on Saturday morning.

I saddled the Ninja late Friday night and shot north up the interstate. I left at around 9:00 p.m. and slid into the parking lot of a motel just shy of Columbus at 11:30 p.m. This was one of those trips born out of necessity more than the pleasure of riding or travel. No pictures on this run. The motel was attached to a night club and had several abandoned gas stations located just across the road. When I inquired about the room rate at the desk, the receptionist asked in return, "How much you got?" I told her I had 30 bucks. "Sold," she said. The water in the shower smelled of cabbage, and my mattress had a blood stain on one side. In the morning, I turned in my key to a bleary-eyed young man at the desk. He asked me if I wanted a cup of complimentary coffee. Remembering the scent of the water the night before, I declined and rejoined the flow of traffic northbound on the interstate. I'm still not sure the hotel actually exists; if I went by that particular spot off the road, would I only find an empty gravel lot and the haunting smell of leafy green vegetables?

I reached Canton by mid morning and faced some disturbing realizations. The dealership was having a Triumph open house that was being coupled with some sort of radio show. The place was crawling with people. I guess I'd hoped that I'd have a rather pressure free shopping experience. The Concours in question turned out not to be a 2004 but a 2002, and was in decidedly less than pristine condition; much of the right lower fairing was crushed and badly bondoed back together. The 2002 had over 30K on the clock rather than under 20K. When I asked about the 2004, I was told that the particular bike about which I was inquiring (and had received photos of, mind you) had been sold the previous week.

Me: "What about a test ride on the '02?"

Dealer: "Can't do that."

Me: "I was told a test ride on the '04 wouldn't be a problem."

Dealer: "That bike's been sold."

I was self-consciously aware of the odor of cabbage that wafted from me now and again.

Disgusted, I left and rode through a light drizzle the remaining miles between Canton, OH and West Alexander, PA to visit with my father, cutting across the northern panhandle of West Virginia in the process. I spent that evening visiting with my father and set off down Ohio Route 7 the following morning. Route 7 follows the Ohio River all the way to eastern Kentucky and remains one of my favorite roads to travel. I picked up U.S. 60 in Kentucky and stayed with it into Louisville. With the detours, the trip stretched nearly a 1000 miles in the span of 48 hours. By the time I arrived at home, my anger toward the dealership had abated. I imagine the older model Concours don't receive much prestige in dealer's eyes these days, especially in light of a Triumph open house.

I opted out of making any further 1000 mile weekends, and wifey and I discussed the purchase of a motorcycle from a local dealer. This meant that a Concours 1000 was out of the question, but opened the door for the purchase of a used Concours 14. There were several of these machines, mostly '08's, available at reasonable prices from the local dealerships. Maybe a Check Engine light wouldn't be such a bad thing.

On the way home after work the next week, feeling a little discouraged, I stopped by the local Harley dealer on Arthur Street here in Louisville. I still enjoy looking at Harley's, the Sportsters in particular, and some of the new models really stir the soul. While I've moved past the Harley stage of my life for the time being, I can still appreciate their machines. There isn't another cruiser manufacturer out there that does what HD does as successfully or as consistently. And I've always admired their sales strategies, just not enough to purchase another one.

HD Sportster Forty-Eight

But the important detail of this little story is that HD of Louisville is also BMW Motorcycles of Louisville. I hadn't even considered a Beemer as an option. I test rode an R1200RT several years ago and found them absolutely fantastic, just what I'd always wanted in a touring rig. Plenty of power, mostly on the low to mid-range. Great suspension, actually a marvel of the motorcycling universe. Lots of nifty little doodads like heated grips and electric windscreens and powerlet adapters all as standard equipment. Wanted one until, that is, I happened to glance at the price tag. I figured that I'd have to sell one of my kidneys on the black market to afford a new model and banished the idea of owning one from my mind. In the meantime, the HD dealership had acquired the BMW franchise and were now carrying a wide variety of used models by the Bavarian manufacturer. While I went into the dealership to drown my sorrows in leather and chrome, I emerged with this.

So now I've officially sipped the Kool-Aid. But as I discovered in my recent expedition down the Blue Ridge parkway, this 2004 BMW R1150RT more than lived up the mystique of the Marque, and as far as I'm concerned, the reputation is well-deserved. After climbing off the Ninja following my 1000 mile weekend, my spirit felt refreshed but my spine wondered why I ever bothered to own a motorcycle in the first place. A thousand miles on the Beemer and I'm ready to stop for lunch. Well, dinner anyways, and hold the cabbage please.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gotta See a Man About a Horse

Shortly following my return from Tellico Plains, TN in March of this year, my wife and I gave serious consideration to acquiring a new machine. While we talked about owning another motorcycle for several years, the stars did not seem to align in just the right way to turn those discussions into reality. In early April, several changes in our finances gave the first glimmer of hope that the possibility of owning another bike was more than dreaming. We were two months away from paying off the loan on our truck, and six months away from completing the cycle of payments on a new furnace. After reviewing the mechanical and electrical gremlins in the Ninja upon my return from the Smokies, my wife made the comment, "You know, we can probably afford another bike now."

My obsession became like a horse pressing the starting gate. However, before I could begin, my spouse and I established some ground rules for the process.
  1. I agreed to begin my search using the intergoogle in order to establish distance and availability factors.
  2. No purchases would be made using the intergoogle.
  3. No purchase would be finalized without a test ride, whether the machine of interest was new or used.
  4. A "buy it today or the price will be different tomorrow" attitude from dealers or private sellers would illicit an automatic "Bye!" response from yours truly (preceded usually by a "Hell no!" over the phone by wifey).
  5. I agreed to remain within the parameters of the basic motorcycle type for which I was obsessing (i.e. not to leave to check out a Concours 14 and return with a Ducati 999).
Having concocted these basic guidelines, the much more difficult question of what exactly we were looking for in a motorbike-for-two needed to be sorted out. Sitting around the kitchen table with some soft jazz in the background, the scent of fresh bread baking in the oven, and the reassurance of a strong cup of coffee, we formulated our list of must-have's.

Wifey's List:
  • The bike must be designed for carrying two people.
  • The rear seat must be comfortable.
  • The bike must be designed to carry things along with the riders.
My wife's requirement of a comfortable pillion comes from her memories of riding two-up on a Harley Sportster in the bygone days of our early courtship. On one such trip around the county in which we lived, a total of no more than 80 miles, she tapped me on the shoulder and shouted into my ear, "Pull over, please. I have to get off this *&%#ing thing."

Lest those readers cry out that my wife should ride her own, let me inform you that up until my crash in 2005 on the Harley, my wife rode beside me on her Honda Rebel 450. After the accident, she never threw a leg over the saddle alone again. She assures me this is not out of fear of riding and hopes to ride her own again in the near future.

My own list of must-have's was a bit more extensive.
  • The bike must be designed to carry two passengers.
  • The bike must have hard luggage.
  • The bike must be "sporty" in it's ride style.
  • The bike must have a good reputation for reliability by those who favor the machine (nonexclusive online forums are an excellent place to garner information).
  • The bike must have. . . presence. . .(I'll get to this one in a minute).
  • Dealership support would be nice, but must be something I can do most of the work on myself.
  • While the bike can have. . . presence. . . it must not contribute to my reverting into a knuckle-dragging, boastful, loud and obnoxious piece of greasy societal mayhem.
There. That about does it.

Presence. I desired a bike that called to me from the garage, a machine that just to look at was a pleasure. Motorcycles with presence turn eyes toward them and cause them to linger, the mind to envision where it will carry you, and the heart to yearn for the road. It's arguable that all motorbikes have presence, and I would certainly agree. But some exude more of this quality than others. For instance, since the first time I ever laid eyes on one, I've coveted a Triumph Speed Triple. Why? The machine would be completely impractical for my needs. There's no room for a passenger or any real luggage, no shielding of any kind from the elements of the road, far more power than I can responsibly use on public roadways. What is it about that bike that causes my blood to race even while the bike is standing still? Because it's a muscle with two wheels attached, fire and iron and little else. It appeals to my basic animal nature and nothing more. And in the realm of desire and obsession, as a selling point, no more is required.

But the presence I wanted during the misty mornings of April appealed to a higher nature. I wanted a bike that just by gazing at it, transported me to places far from home. In that vision, I could crawl free of a tent heavy with dew, gear up, and move off through Kentucky hill country as the wispy vapor of early morning fog rises from damp fields and stands of pine. I wanted a machine that could accomplish this day after day after day without complaint, a motorcycle that aligned the compass of my spirit toward the horizon.

The list I crafted hunkered down at my kitchen table during a chilly Spring evening looked like this.

Kawasaki Concours 14

Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Moto Guzzi Norge

Honda VFR

Kawasaki Concours 1000

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

OK. So the Harley's on the list purely for shits and giggles. While I'm sure the Electra Glide carries two passengers in comfort and it certainly has presence, it pushes the definition of "sporting" ride. Speaking only for myself, of course, I also risk a return to the draggery of the knuckles stage of my existence. Once my leg was over the saddle, I'd probably mutter something about "throbbing power between my legs" or some such nonsense. Besides, it's a wee tad out of my price range. . .new or used.

While the VFR, I'm sure, is a marvelous piece of modern motorcycle engineering, it fell off the list for two reasons. Look at the rear seat. . . er. . .perch on that thing. My wife would get a nose bleed. It was also a bit above what I was willing to spend for a new or new-to-me machine. And then there's the technical know how necessary to maintain a dual-clutch, throttle by wire. . . wait, that's three reasons. Moving right along.

The Moto Guzzi dazzles my eye every time I look at it. It looks put together right in all the right ways. Price range, even used, would be at the upper limit but affordable. But let's try a little experiment, shall we? Go out your front door, get on your cycle, and ride across town to the Guzzi dealership. What's that? Don't have one? Really? I'm convinced that locating a Moto Guzzi dealer requires membership in some exclusive club. The dues? How about your soul or maybe just your left testicle? Let's not even talk about what happens if you have no testicles.

That leaves the Kawi's and the V-Strom. The description of the Concours 14 says "variable valve timing" among other engine oddities. Guess what happens when I try to get in there with a wrench? Busted, that's what happens. The first Kawi with a check engine light. No thank you.

No offense to V-Strom owners. I've heard wonderful things about the V and the Wee, but both are as pleasant to the eye as a bag of baby puke. But you know what they say, "Beauty is in the eye of the V-holder". To each his own; presence comes in many forms.

I began to lean heavily toward the Concours 1000 after several days of thought. While that edition of the iconic sport-tourer was replaced by the 2008 Concours 14, the elder of the model line still commands a loyal following. Reports of it's reliability are legendary. Well, legendary among Concours owners, anyway. It has a big, comfortable seat and locking hard luggage. My thought was that I could spend half as much for a used Concours 1000 as I would on the 14 or the V-Strom, have a reliable bike, and save some money for farkles. So that was it, my mind made up, I began the quest for a gently used Kawasaki Concours 1000 that would carry me across four states.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Easy Indeed

As I mentioned in my last post, I experimented with a packing system for food that I adopted from the book Motorcycle Camping Made Easy by Bob Woofter. I found the system, which involved labeling and packing various foodstuffs according not only to day but to each meal of the day, a useful way of planning for an extended stay in the back country. In the course of writing the previous post, I found myself reflecting on the usefulness of the entire book.

Camping, now in it's Second Edition, despite receiving mixed reviews from the motorcycling community, remains one of Whitehorse Press' most popular releases. The book spans 255 pages from soft cover to soft cover. The contents are split between preface, acknowledgments, and introduction, 13 Chapters, lists of equipment suppliers and state by state offices of tourism, an index, and rounding the whole thing out, a handsome picture of Bob himself accompanied by his author bio. The central body of Camping progresses from a philosophy of motorcycle camping to a chapter by chapter review of the various categories of gear. The book culminates in camp skills, preparing meals, and an excellent chapter on recording and sharing the experience. Made Easy's photographs remind me of the point and shoot efforts I've engaged in myself. The true gems of the book are the quotes from various "experts" tacked in the margins and the recipes in Chapter 11, Camp Cooking the Modern Way, such as the one for mincemeat pie on page 212 complete with photos.

In my mind, what makes Mr. Woofter's work a definitive classic, isn't the seriousness with which he approaches his subject, but rather the brevity with which he approaches motocamping. Rather than spend his time endlessly debating the "best" tents, stoves, sleeping bags, etc., the author approaches those subjects from the point of view of offering general guidelines. He leaves arguments of "best" and "bestest" to the manufacturers themselves, which allows us to proceed relaxed through the book as if we're already seated by the side of a campfire somewhere, listening to the pop and shush of the fire and the quiet strumming by some dude who packed his geetar all the way from Arizona on the pillion. Oh, and let's not forget the crisp dry smell of the Autumn air or the ratcheting symphony of crickets, shall we?

The book's major detractors state that Camping is oversimplified and understated, and that quality, quite simply, is bad. I would agree that the book is simple. It doesn't overextend it's reach or purpose. I argue that due to Made Easy's simple nature, it remains a work that can be approached again and again. It's an excellent book for beginners, because it doesn't overwhelm. It's an excellent book for experienced motocampers because we all need occasionally to forget that we know all there is to know and have an easygoing mentor remind us of the basics. What Mr. Woofter reminds us all of, whether novice or so-called expert, is to relax, enjoy the ride, and kick back at road's end with close friends.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Not So Foregone Conclusion

In mid-March of this year, with the threat of late season snow still crisping the air, I loaded the Ninja with what looks to be all of my worldly possessions and set off toward the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee. I'd been riding the public transit system around Louisville most of the winter, biding my time for the first shreds of Spring to visit the Ohio River valley. The forecast warned of rain, but on the morning I rolled the Ninja out of the garage, not a single cloud obscured the sun. The temperature stretched into the mid-60's and I'd put in for a week of leave from the trenches.

I was anxious to run the bike through it's gears. I spent the cold months tearing the cycle down in the garage, searching for electrical gremlins that had slowly infiltrated the system over years of use, and changing fluids, brakes, and tires. Having exposed the last of my gremlins to the light of scrutiny, I saddled up and pointed the bike south. Though the Ninja remained a mechanically sound machine, I knew that in all likelihood, this would be it's final extended trip. My wife and I had been discussing the purchase of a larger machine capable of carrying the two of us in comfort. I'd all but received her blessing to start the quest. I planned to allow the Kawasaki to live out it's leisure years with an honored spot in the garage and spirited weekend jaunts through the local countryside, while the new bike, whatever it would be, would become my workhorse and tourer de sport.

On this trip, I intended to do more camping than riding and decided to forgo the usual--and more comfortable, I might add--motorcycle campground in favor of a secluded spot along one of the old fire roads. Armed with my AAA Southeastern Campbook and Kentucky/Tennessee State Series map, I chose a primitive sight, aptly named North River Camp, along the North River tributary of the Tellico River. While it might appear that the road accessing the camp was inhospitable to Ninjas, the bike cruised along the packed gravel bed with little problem. I experimented with a system for packing food I adopted from Bob Wofter's Motorcycle Camping Made Easy in the hopes that I could limit my treks between wilderness and town. I wanted to immerse myself in the woods, to park the bike for extended periods and disappear along shadowed paths on foot. I couldn't accomplish that to as full an extent if I was forced to make the 24 mile round trip into Tellico Plains for food each day.

With the exception of a chilly ride down the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway, I set up camp on a Saturday afternoon in fading light and remained in camp until the following Thursday. The tent, a Coleman Hooligan 3, held up against the damp and windy weather admirably. At one point, after a particularly long day of hiking along the ridge above my camp, I returned so thoroughly worn out that I crawled into the shelter after a quick bite to eat and only removed my shoes before sliding into the sleeping bag. As is usually the case, I awoke in the middle of the night needing to visit the facilities--in this case, a large rock just off to the left of camp. I heard the steady rhythm of rain on the fly. I made a hazy mental note to bring an empty quart canning jar with me on any subsequent trips for the purpose of indoor plumbing. What I stepped out into that Wednesday night was a full-on sleet storm, one of the chilliest trips to the loo that I can remember. The following morning, the day of my departure saw early morning temperatures below 20 degrees.

Altogether, I spent just under five full days camped in the Cherokee National Forest. I chased the river most of these days, at times strolling along it's edge on the gravel roads as the water carved it's way down out of the mountains. On more than one occasion, I followed it from above, walking paths that twisted along the ridge used by the Forest Service to battle fires. When time came to break camp and ride for home, I felt rested and tuned. Eventually, the temperatures reached the upper 50's, and despite a steady drizzle, I was comfortable motoring along in the thin rind of my rain suit.

I stopped in the town of Burnside, KY late Thursday evening. My neutral indicator light had been flickering for much of the afternoon. I waited all day for the rain to penetrate some hidden and excruciatingly difficult section of the wiring harness and short out the entire system. I decided not to push on in the dark for home and retired to a mom and pop motel at the edge of the town limits. Having ample time before check out the following morning, I lifted off the seat to see if I would be lucky enough to find the likely culprit without too much digging. As luck would have it, I'd picked up an unwelcome guest during the cold nights at camp while the bike sat idle.

Unfortunately, my visitor chewed through much of the wiring that controlled brake lights and some of the indicator lights. I doctored a quick repair with the electrical tape I brought, and suffered a prayer to the highway gods that I'd make it back to the cozy confines of my own garage before my ass caught fire. What followed this little trip was a week of tearing the computer out of it's bracket and splicing in new wiring to replace the meal my guest had made of the original. My experience as an electrician being what it is, I put on a pot of coffee each evening and some slow jazz and took my time with the repairs. All's well that end's well.

Six months later and the Ninja sits idle next to my new machine and waiting on me to replace it's now dead battery. Truth be told, the trip south probably squeezed the last of the good juice out the old cell anyway. I feel a little guilty when I walk into the garage, like a neglectful parent. I bought the 650 after my Harley was destroyed as an attempt to recapture the motorcycling of my youth. It delivered more than open roads and scenic vistas, more than speed and thrill. It allowed me to reclaim my sense of wonder. For that, I have only gratitude.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Sometimes life just shows up at the door with a bag of snakes and asks you to sort them out. In the process, the peripheries of life, even those we care about, often fall by the wayside. I find it hard to believe that its been nearly a year since I last posted, but that would seem to be the case. And as is the case with many writers, once the act of writing is neglected, a twisted sort of insecurity about writing keeps one from the act. And the snake eats it's own tail.

The past year's seen some significant changes in my life. My wife and I have relocated to Louisville. We decided to trade the country for the city. I'm fortunate to now have ample garage space rather than just a bare patch of off-level concrete driveway. The trade off comes at a small price. Instead of being two minutes from the nearest stretch of open highway, I must now navigate at least twenty minutes of speeding cars with drivers on cell phones, elephantine city buses, pedestrians materializing suddenly from between parked cars, and let's not forget the drunks weaving their way home from the bar and their latest failed pass at Kathy Sue Loudermilk. Still, the luxury of working indoors on a bike despite the weather dims all potential sacrifices. Did I mention that the garage has its own central air and heat, eight banks of fluorescent overhead lights, and 110 amp underground service?

I've added another horse to the stable as well. I think I'll postpone the introductions for a little while, in the interest of suspense. Rest assured, the Ninja's still pulling strong with 79K miles on the clock. Well, except for the discovery of a dead battery last Wednesday. Seems my blog hasn't been the only thing I've neglected.

I've spent more than a few days on the road over the past year, and a few nights motocamping in some of my favorite locations. I reintroduced myself, as well as acquainted my new machine, to the wonder that is the Blue Ridge Parkway. As soon as I sort out the photos, I'll give you a glimpse into some of those journeys.

Now that I'm settled in at the keyboard, I wonder what kept me such a long time away from this place. That nameless fear--and senseless, I might add--of writing dwindles with every tap and click. My wife has a signature that accompanies all her electronic correspondence, one I find most appropriate.

"If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."
-- Vincent Van Gogh