Riding To Alabama

April 24th, 2017
trip listing

The trip listing from the club website.

I did finally make up my mind to go on this “Pilgrimage to Barber” with others in the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Riders Club (RMMRC). Barber, just to be clear, is the Barber Motorsports Museum and racetrack outside of Birmingham, Alabama.

It’s going to be an interesting trip in a lot of ways. In fact, so interesting–at least in my conception–that I pitched it as a story idea to Mark Tuttle, editor-in-chief of Rider magazine. Mark sent me a quick acknowledgement email saying he’d get back to me ASAP on my idea.

I’m not totally sure why I’ve had such uncertainty about going on this trip. Presumably it has to do with a) taking a long trip with folks I either do not know or hardly know, b) at least one 400+ mile day, and c) doing so many miles in such a short time. But I routinely go on trips of this length with the OFMC in fewer days and I have taken at least one other long trip with strangers and had a great time. So what’s the big deal? Why was I hesitant?

Frankly, I still can’t answer that question. I just was. I finally concluded that the best approach would be to just do it and see how it goes. If we really don’t like it we won’t do it again in the future.

What I pitched to Mark correlates to those issues.

The core concept is that the RMMRC is a particularly active riding club and such groups offer an excellent opportunity to connect with others who share your passion, not to mention actually go riding. That core is then fleshed out in addressing the issues I mentioned. At least part of the idea is helping other people facing similar uncertainties to resolve their concerns.

A sidebar point I hope to address–perhaps in an actual sidebar, written by her–is that Judy has never been on an extended ride with a bunch of other people. This is something I’ve been doing with the OFMC every year for more than 25 years but she has never done it. I’m hoping her take on it all will be fresh and interesting.

Then there’s the basic idea of a “pilgrimage” to Barber. Visiting the holy shrine. If you’re into motorcycles, Barber is one of the premier places to see a vast array of different bikes through the decades. Plus, one RMMRC member on this trip is a member of the Barber Board of Directors and thus will be able to get us possibly onto the track for a lap or two and definitely into the catacombs where bikes are stored before being rebuilt and put on display. In other words, a true fanatic’s dream.

So we’ll see what Mark thinks of the story idea. Either way, we’re going and I’ll be writing about it here.

Biker Quote for Today

A hundred years from now my great grandkids will not recall my bank balance, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but they will remember I rode a motorcycle.

Hey Dude, Back Off!

April 20th, 2017
Motorcycles on the road

Be a nice person; don’t crowd the guy in front of you.

Riding with your buddies is one of the great joys of motorcycling but there are times when you just wish someone wasn’t with you. That happened to me recently.

I’ve ridden with this one guy a number of times and he was along this one day in a group. Initially I was in the two spot and he was third, behind me. For convenience I’ll call him Joe. While I don’t spend all my time looking in the mirror, I do check it periodically and I was a bit perturbed on several occasions to take a glance and find Joe really close–too close for my taste.

Now, I’ll give Joe credit that he was in staggered formation, so even though he was close he was not right on my tail. I’ve ridden with guys who get close AND get right up behind you. I totally hate that!

It was not a big deal, although there was one time when the leader moved into the lane to the left and as I threw out my left arm to signal I also looked back (like any smart person ought to do). There was Joe, staggered to my left but almost right up with me. I hesitated a moment and he dropped back and I safely changed lanes. That should not have happened. He shouldn’t have been there.

Later we were in a different order. Joe was in the two spot and I was third. Now I had the opportunity to really observe.

I had to feel for the leader. Joe stuck tight behind him, but now the road was more curvy that it had been earlier. And in the curves you don’t necessarily stay in staggered formation; you follow the curve where the line leads you.

What I saw was not pretty. Any number of times I saw Joe touching his brake because the leader was moving over in the lane on a curve and Joe was too close. Other times, Joe actually ran off onto the shoulder a little to avoid the leader as the curve carried him to the center of the road.

Come on dude, if you’re hitting you brake and running off on the shoulder in order to avoid the guy in front of you, you’re too dang close!! Back the heck off!! What’s going on in your head?

Biker Quote for Today

How are the brakes? Don’t know, I never touched them.

Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Bikes

April 17th, 2017
motorcycles on the road

It’s the time of year to head for the hills.

Saturday was my first day on a bike up in the hills this year. I was not alone.

I headed out with a group of five others from the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Riders Club, three Gold Wings, two Kawis (including mine), and one Ducati. Pretty soon, though, Donnie got impatient with the traffic and blasted off on his own, leaving five of us.

We headed out on Parker Road, CO 83, all the way down to Colorado Springs. That part of the ride itself was pretty interesting because I realized it had been a long, long time since I’ve gone all the way to the Springs on that road. I had forgotten how beautifully Pikes Peak rises up in front of you as you get down south. I was seriously wishing I had my camera with me to get a shot of the rider in front of me set off against the mountain.

Oh, and I want to mention that by this point we had already seen many dozens of other riders. This was a day to be out on the bikes.

Reaching the Springs we jumped on I-25 briefly until we reached the exit for US 24, which goes up through Manitou Springs, past Pikes Peak, to Woodland Park. Here again I was struck with the realization that I had not been up this road in this direction in many years. I know I came down it somewhat recently but all roads look different when you’re going the other way. So it was almost like going down a road I’d never been on, especially coming into Woodland Park.

Normally my experience of Woodland Park is to come in on CO 67 from Deckers and turn west when I hit US 24. So there’s that whole portion of Woodland Park east of CO 67 that I almost never see. Holy smokes, there’s a whole town there.

The whole deal with these RMMRC impromptu rides is generally “Ride to eat, eat to ride,” so we stopped for lunch in Woodland Park. Ross, who was leading on his Ducati, pulled into a bank parking lot. I thought that was odd, that the bank might object, but he said he parks there all the time. And considering how huge this lot is, it’s hard to see how the bank could object too strenuously.

We had lunch at the Ute Inn. The service was slow but I still recommend it because the food was definitely good. I enjoyed what I had but I looked enviously at what some of the other guys had, too.

After lunch we headed up CO 67 through Deckers and on to Pine and US 285. Then back to Denver on that road. This was my first time in the hills this year and I guess I knew it could get chilly but I didn’t wear the electric vest. I could have used it, though it was not very chilly without it. Still, it was nice to get back to lower elevations and warmth.

And oh, everywhere we went in the hills there were hordes of bikers, too. Seemed like everyone was out. I guess winter is definitely over. Time to start putting some real miles on the bikes.

Biker Quote for Today

There exists a set of people who believe 2 > 4.

Creeping Gear Envy

April 13th, 2017
motorcycle jacket ad

This is the ad that caught my eye.

There is very little I desire that I don’t have. I’m a past master at the idea that happiness is wanting what you have, not what you don’t have. Plus, at this point in my life, if there is something I really want I generally go buy it. But generally, there isn’t much I want so there is very little I buy.

This is frustrating for my wife because she likes to get me things for Christmas and my birthday, so when some rare thing comes along that I want, she gets annoyed when I just go buy it rather than wait for one of those two occasions so she can buy it for me.

Which brings us to here. I’ve gotten a little envious in the last few years when I see guys who have riding jackets that are waterproof and for whom rain is unimportant. As long as I’ve been riding and up until this very moment, when it starts to rain I have had to assess whether I thought it was going to rain enough that I ought to stop and put on my rain suit. A waterproof jacket is appealing.

Of course, I have a jacket with a waterproof liner, but that’s altogether different. Either you still have to stop to zip that liner in or else you have to have been wearing it all along, and those things get hot and sweaty in hot weather. A ventilated jacket that stays cool when desired, stays warm when desired, and sheds water is a very different animal.

So it caught my eye recently when I saw an ad in Rider magazine for the Tourmaster Transition Series 4 jacket. First off, it looks good, plus it has a lot of nice features. And it’s waterproof. Then going way beyond that, it is listed for only $270. OK, I’m interested.

I checked the local bike shops and found that both Performance Cycle and Fay Myers carry Tourmaster so I hopped on the Honda and cruised on down. I wanted to see this thing for real and try it on. Maybe come home with a new jacket, or at least come home and tell Judy if she wants to buy me an early birthday gift I know what that gift might be.

No dice. In both cases, the shops had a great many jackets but each had only one Tourmaster and it was not the one I’m interested in.

I looked at the jackets they do have. And they have some very nice waterproof (which basically means Gore-Tex) jackets. And they will only set you back, oh, $500 to $900. OK.

I do like to shop locally. I like to patronize the businesses in my area. But if they don’t carry the product I want I don’t have a lot of choice. I hate ordering something online, receiving it, and then finding it is not something I want to keep and having to package and return it. But I guess maybe I’ll start that ball rolling. Hopefully I won’t want to return it.

Biker Quote for Today

Teach your child the love of motorcycles and they will never have money for drugs.

More Sweet New Mexico Motorcycle Roads

April 10th, 2017
Road to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

One part of this nice road.

We didn’t plan it this way but Judy and I spent two nights at Silver City, New Mexico. We heard great things not just about Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument but also about the road to get there (40 miles, two hours, through great scenery) that we decided to stay an extra day and go there.

First off, Silver City was a real surprise. I’ve been there before, but a long time ago. At this point Silver City is doing its best to become the next Taos but it’s a long way from getting there. What that means is that the very nice old downtown is intact and partially renovated, with several very good restaurants, a brew pub, galleries, and a lot of other upscale stores. But these stand side by side with empty storefronts. So it’s a nice place but it won’t break your budget.

The first half of the run up to the monument is on an extremely narrow, winding road that follows the contours of the land. This is NM 15. Very nice. After awhile NM 15 connects to NM 35 and from there the road is more cut and fill so it’s not as twisty but still very nice, and wider with actual lane markings. This dead-ends at the monument.

The monument is pretty interesting. The Mogollon Indians lived very briefly in a series of caves in the side of a hill, above a beautiful river valley. Not your typical cliff dwellings; these are really more like caves that go deeper back into the rock without the extended sloping ceiling/overhang you associate with cliff dwellings.

Once you’ve been to the monument, you backtrack at least as far as NM 35. From there you can take NM 35 as a different route down to San Lorenzo and there pick up NM 152 to US 180 and back to Silver City. We did, and it’s a nice route, too, though nowhere near as twisty as NM 15. Whatever routes you take, this is a beautiful part of New Mexico.

Biker Quote for Today

Riding a bike doesn’t make me a bad person, just like going to church doesn’t make you a good person.

Legislative Update On Motorcycle-Related Bills

April 6th, 2017
autocycle

Is it a car? Is it a motorcycle? The Colorado Legislature still says motorcycle.

Not much happens quickly at the Legislature. We were gone for three weeks and while there is an update in order, there isn’t that much to it. Pulling from the alerts I get from Stump, we have the following.

The Autocycle Bill, HB-1044, has been passed and signed by the governor. So now three-wheelers like that one in the picture above are a class of their own, not motorcycles, right? Well, no. Under this new legislation autocycles are still classed as motorcycles. That means the eye protection is required. However, you do not need motorcycle accreditation on your driver’s license to drive one. The bill also requires a child restraining seat for kids under 8, so that pretty much prohibits them from riding in one as there is generally no good way to install such a seat in an autocycle. (At least that’s what Stump tells us. I’m not familiar enough with them to understand how that would work or not work.)

The MOST bill is moving along, but slowly. Per Stump:

Basically, the only elements in the bill are: the MOST Program will be under the Colorado State Patrol; and it will have a 3 year sunset clause. CSP was very adamant about not having any other changes in the bill and they would only accept ownership of the program if it was transferred over as is. The next important step is to pass the bill through the rest of the process to get it to the Governor’s desk. Once that happens and CSP takes control, the rules will have to be re-written. That is when we have to be ever vigilant and see if we can get our concerns heard and some changes made. Initial conversation with CSP sounds like they are open to hearing from the stakeholders so we can only keep our fingers crossed at this time.

One other thing going on that really would seem to be of concern to all, not just motorcyclists, is the Automated Driving Systems Bill, SB-213. This bill has been passed through the Senate and is now in the House. ABATE’s concern is in protecting riders while the kinks in these systems get worked out. Stump is telling legislators that there needs to be a requirement for a live person behind the wheel while testing is proceeding. “When the time comes and the technology proves it feasible, it would be easy enough to change the law.”

That’s all. Not a big year at the legislator, at least for those who ride motorcycles.

Biker Quote for Today

A blind spot is the point where your vehicle is invisible to the drivers you’re behind and next to, unless they turn their heads, which is difficult while texting. — Nick Ienatsch

First Time, Repeat Visit To Great New Mexico Motorcycle Roads

April 3rd, 2017

Judy and I were recently in New Mexico and though we were in the car, not on a bike, we made it a point to hit some great motorcycle roads. The simple fact is, a road that’s great for a bike is generally pretty darn good for a car, too.

motorcyclist on Emory Pass

A rider heading down on the east side of Emory Pass.

We spent a couple days in Ruidoso and boy if there is one thing you learn right away it is that Texans love Ruidoso. In Colorado it is common knowledge that Texans by the horde come to Lake City. Well, for Ruidoso, think Lake City on steroids. A waitress we spoke with said it’s commonly accepted that at any time of year, not just particular seasons, there are more Texans in Ruidoso than New Mexicans.

So we’re not into crowds and we headed south to Cloudcroft and the road from there to Timberon. This was a route I learned about on MotorcycleRoads.com. It was a good trip, and would be a really sweet ride. You’re up high, in fact, so high that along the way you encounter several observatories. Not the look-at-the-stars kind, however, but solar observatories. For looking at the sun.

Then from the main observatory it’s down and down and down through one of the longest series of S-curves I’ve ever seen, to Timberon. There is food here but no gas. Have lunch and turn around.

From Ruidoso we headed over toward Truth or Consequences, turning off the highway for Hillsboro to take NM 152 over Emory Pass to Silver City. This is a terrific road I wrote about some years ago on Examiner.com. At that time I called it New Mexico’s tail of the dragon. Yes, there are curves.

Things change, though, including your memory. I’ll need to dig that old article out to see what I wrote then but I would have sworn that on the western side of the pass the road went for 20 miles or more twisting, twisting, twisting along the creek. In fact, it does a phenomenal amount of twisting on the east side of the pass, and going up the pass, but on the west there are probably fewer than 5 miles along the creek.

Doesn’t matter. It’s still one of the twistiest roads you’ll ever see. Then there is one thing that has changed since I was last there: forest fire. Back in 2013 the area got hit hard by a fire, so it’s just not as green as when I saw it last. But it’s still a good ride. As that guy in my photo above would attest, I’m sure.

Biker Quote for Today

Some paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.

Scaring Myself

March 27th, 2017
Motorcycle on a curve

Turns can be fun–or they can scare you silly.

I’ll knock on wood and say that I’ve never gone down on my motorcycle except in the mildest circumstances possible. That includes a 2 mph tip-over in mud and wiping out on gravel at about 5 mph when a dog walked out in front of me from between two cars. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t come close a few times. And there were plenty of other times when in truth I probably wasn’t all that close to disaster but managed to scare myself pretty badly just the same.

I’m happy to be able to say that most of these incidents were a good many years ago, when I was nowhere near as experienced or as good a rider as I am now. That fact testifies to the folly of someone thinking they can get on a motorcycle and ride it just fine without any sort of formal training. Like me. Managing to not go down and being a good rider are not at all the same thing. I’m a good rider today because I have by now had a great deal of experience AND I have taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Beginning Rider Course (twice) and their Experienced Rider Course. Plus a couple other classes.

Almost without exception, the situations where I’ve been scared have been when I’ve been in a turn and either found myself going too fast or seen loose gravel on the road. You know as well as I do that there is nothing that will get your adrenaline pumping more than being leaned over in a turn and feeling that rear tire let go when it hits gravel or a patch of water. At that point there’s nothing you can do but ride through it and count on your tire to hook up again once you’ve cleared the hazard. Fortunately, that’s usually what happens.

Get a Grip

Going too fast is different. Most importantly, you can learn better riding skills that will help you avoid the situation in the first place or how to cope with it if you failed to avoid it.

The crucial factor in a sharp curve is traction. Leaning and braking both consume traction. If you’re going straight down the road at 90 degrees vertical you have maximum braking traction. Leaning into a curve it can be very dangerous to use the brakes because the farther you’re leaning the less traction you have left to brake with. Thus, the best way to enter a curve is to do your braking coming into the curve, before you initiate your lean.

Rider coaches will tell you not to touch your brake while in a curve, except very, very gently as a last resort. I have actually violated this rule from the very beginning because I didn’t understand the physics of it. Suffice it to say that I’ve gotten away with it because I’ve always been very gentle on the brake, but I’ve known instinctively that it was a risk and there were a lot of times when I was very scared. Now that I’ve learned more I do this a lot less, but I’m actually fairly confident in my ability to do it because I’ve been doing it successfully for so long.

The other factor in finding yourself too fast in a curve is taking a huge leap of faith and trusting in the bike, and that’s a mighty scary thing to do, too. The fact is, motorcycles and motorcycle tires are very good these days, and they have abilities that exceed those of most riders. That is, you can safely lean most bikes over farther than the rider has the courage to lean.

When it’s a do or die situation, though, you’re going to be a whole lot better off scaring yourself silly by leaning even further, than if you don’t try it and just accept that you’re going to crash. It’s hard to find that courage but seriously, what’s the worst that can happen if the only other alternative is crashing for sure? I make a point sometimes of leaning way off the bike, keeping it as upright as possible, even on easy turns. I figure I want it to be muscle memory coming into play if I ever desperately need to make that move.

In the end, I think what has saved me all these times was fear. I have been more afraid of crashing than I have been of pushing beyond my comfort zone. But fear is no fun, so I’ve worked to become a better rider and these days I just don’t find myself in these situations much anymore. It makes for a much more pleasant ride.

Biker Quote for Today

200mph, no hands. Damn that’d be cool… right up to the part where you die.

Starting Big

March 23rd, 2017
Ken and CB750

I still have that bike, and I still have that jacket. I don’t still have all that hair.

Big, 800-pound bagger motorcycles are very popular, at least in the U.S., but there’s one place you’ll never see them: at the Department of Motor Vehicles on the license testing range.

When you’re getting your motorcycle accreditation you have to pass the written test and also pass a driving test, just like with a car. The driving portion for a bike takes place out in the parking lot, where they set up cones and have you ride through the course demonstrating your competence. On a scooter, or a small bike, such as a 250cc Honda Rebel, it’s easy. For a beginning rider to maneuver their full-size bike around the course, the likelihood of success is minute.

I didn’t know this when I bought my first bike. But I learned.

I had ridden motorcycles whenever I had the opportunity for many years, but it was only once I bought my first bike, a 1980 Honda CB750 Custom, that I got licensed. My friends told me then that it would be good to get a small bike to take the test but I didn’t have any idea where to get that small bike so off I went on my 750.

Now, a 750cc bike is only considered a mid-size bike anymore, though it was a big bike in 1980, and it still weighs about 500 pounds. I suspect the licensing examiner was surprised to see what I rode in on but no matter, let’s go do the test.

The first part of the course demonstrates handling control. You have to weave around cones in a slalom pattern at slow speed. Then there was a right turn, and another right turn, which set you up to come into a much tighter box where you have to do a 180-degree turn.

I did not make it through all the cones and when I came around for the 180 I had not understood the directions properly. I thought the examiner told me to stay outside the lines, when in fact I was supposed to stay inside them. I was successful in staying outside. You then start out from a spot where you accelerate forward and then brake and swerve sharply as if you were avoiding an obstacle. That part was easy.

Of course I failed the test. And I was very surprised when she told me I utterly failed to make the U-turn within the lines. Ooooh. Within! I get it now.

Second Try

Now that I knew what the test consisted of I practiced. I showed up again a few days later, not at all confident I would succeed, but willing to take a shot at it. With no training I instinctively figured out that to weave through the cones I had to use a technique called trail-braking, where you keep the engine revved for stability while working the rear brake to move forward at about walking speed. To my relief, I got through the cones just fine.

Heading into the U-turn I now knew I needed to stay inside the lines and, using trail-braking again, I successfully executed the turn. Coming out of it, however, the lean was too great and the bike laid over on its side. It didn’t actually go all the way down; it ended up resting half-way up on the foot peg. I looked at the examiner and she said she couldn’t help me but if I got the bike back up I could keep going with the test.

I raised the bike and continued and everything else went fine. She passed me. Yahoo!

I have since learned that one of the major benefits of taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding course is that you learn on small bikes and at the end of the course you do the riding portion of the test. If you pass, all you have to do to get your license is go to Motor Vehicle, pass the written portion, and pay your fee. Of course you also get some training in the process, which is a very good thing.

Had I known all this that’s probably what I would have done. I didn’t, though, so now I take pride in being able to say I passed the test on my real, full-sized highway bike. And I love the looks of amazement I get when I say that.

Biker Quote for Today

Myth: You only live once. Fact: You die only once, you live every day.

Examiner Resurrection: Rain On The Motorcycle Trip — Great!

March 20th, 2017
Bikers take a break.

OFMC takes a break.

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a motorcycle trip is a rain storm.

The OFMC is off on its annual summer trip and today we rode out of Meeker, CO, on our way to Kamas, UT. Yesterday was blazing hot and today it was mercifully overcast. We cruised west on US 40 and the sky was threatening but mostly it was an “Oh my god!” day.

West on US 40 is the standard route through these parts but a little west of Duchesne we headed north on a road we’d never seen before, Utah 208. A 10-mile jog hooked us up to Utah 35, which took us up over Wolf Creek Pass and down, ultimately, to Kamas. This is not the famous Wolf Creek Pass that runs from South Fork to Pagosa Springs in Colorado, but it’s an amazingly beautiful pass just the same. And the secret is that it has not been paved for all that long, so it’s almost unknown. I wish I had pictures to show you but when you’re traveling with eight other guys they don’t take to stopping every half mile or so so you can shoot a picture.

But I’m not here to talk about the pass anyway. It’s Utah 208 that I have in mind.

map of road in Utah

We turned north off US 40 after dodging rain for hours. Every time it looked like we were headed straight for some big storm cloud it just slipped on by us. But we turned north on Utah 208 and there was the biggest, stormiest cloud in the sky directly in front of us. Shall we stop now and put on rain gear?

The guys in the lead didn’t stop so on we cruised. And the sky got blacker, and the blackness drew nearer. A pull-off came into view and the turn signals came on. Time for rain suits.

The funny thing is, this is Utah, where, as in Colorado, single clouds move across the sky dumping buckets of rain on everything below and leaving the rest of the world completely dry. By the time two-thirds of us had our rain pants on, one of the guys who didn’t announced that “I don’t think we’re going to need rain gear.” We looked and this black cloud had already moved substantially to the east and the area we were heading for was not looking all that bad.

“Let’s just sit here a while and we won’t need to suit up at all.”

We looked around. We were in a beautiful spot on a road where there were almost zero cars going either direction. And just then a cloud came over so were weren’t even roasting in the sun as we had been when we stopped. We broke out some cold beer and kicked back.

This turned out to be one of the best stops of the day. We stayed there for probably 45 minutes just relaxing, stretching, and enjoying the solitude and beauty. And we don’t make any apologies for the beer, either. We each had one 12-oz can and, as I said, we were there for 45 minutes. It was just one of those spontaneous moments that make trips such as this a joy. Friends out in some gorgeous country, on our bikes, taking it easy . . . it doesn’t get any better than this.

And we never would have stopped if it hadn’t been for the rain. As it was, when we pulled out we missed the cloud entirely and we continued up over Wolf Creek Pass and were just awed by the beauty. I love my motorcycle. It makes moments like this possible.

Biker Quote for Today

“Damn, buying that motorcycle was a bad investment.” Said no one ever.