Archive for June, 2017

Examiner Resurrection: Touring Yellowstone On Motorcycle

Thursday, June 29th, 2017
Bikers in Yellowstone

Five members of the OFMC at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

This seems like a good time of year to resurrect this particular Examiner piece. I guess you can now disregard the bit about traffic being down due to the recession.

Are tourist traffic jams lessened in Yellowstone this year due to the recession?

The answer is yes. If you’re thinking about riding about coming to Yellowstone but are put off by stories of huge traffic jams, this seems to be a good year to come.

Note: I just read a report that Yellowstone is reporting record visitation for the year. My assessment is purely anecdotal. I’ve been there before and it just was not as crowded this time as previously.

On the other, your economic stimulus dollars are hard at work in the national parks this summer and that translates into construction delays that at times can make the tourist delays pale in comparison.

The OFMC has never “done” Yellowstone before. We’ve gone through it but it was mostly a matter of avoiding all the tourist areas and getting across to the other side. This year we actually did Yellowstone. That is to say, we stopped at places like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs, just like ordinary tourists.

We also made some stops that the average tourist may not know about, but which are especially nice on motorcycles. In this case, thanks go to one of our group who had done the park on his bike with his wife last year. He had scouted out the really cool spots and led us to them.

Our route

Yellowstone RouteWe entered Yellowstone from Grand Teton National Park, coming up US 191, which runs north-south through that park from Moran Junction. We actually hit our first major construction delay on the last 8 miles of that road. No simple resurfacing going on here; they were excavating down to roadbase and putting in new base, essentially completely rebuilding the road. It was 8 miles of gravel and dust and stop and go.

Entering Yellowstone, we immediately saw signs telling us that we would encounter construction over the next 10 miles. However, we first hit brand new asphalt and then ran into extremely fresh chip seal. But that was the worst of it in Yellowstone. And coming in we ran right along the rim of a deep gorge. Very beautiful.

We continued on up US 191 and reached Old Faithful, where we pulled off to see the geyser. This stretch of road is essentially four-lane divided highway, complete with a freeway-like interchange to facilitate the masses of traffic. The road was mostly empty as we entered, due to the fact that they geyser was just set to blow. We were still parking as hordes of people came out to their vehicles.

Lesson one: Don’t even try to leave Old Faithful for at least half an hour after it blows. The traffic is worse than most city-type rush hours. Just go get something to eat or drink and take your time.

After the geyser blew again we continued north on US 191, stopping at various hot pools and such. Then, as we approached the connection with US 89, which continues north while US 191 heads west, we made a diversion. Johnathon had found what appears to be a stretch of the old highway, which runs for two miles alongside another gorge. Firehole Falls is the main attraction along here, but there is also a really nice spot with cascades and swimming in the river. A very popular place. (This spot is marked in turquoise on the map.)

We jogged west on US 191 to West Yellowstone for the night, then took it back in in the morning and continued north on US 89. This took us up to Mammoth Hot Springs, which is pretty much what the name says. (Also marked in turquoise on the map.) We stopped and walked around this place but Johnathon had also discovered that there is a road called the Upper Terrace Loop. This one-way strip of asphalt circles all the way around the hot springs, winding its way through the woods. A very nice motorcycle road.

From Mammoth Hot Springs we took Grand Loop Road east to Roosevelt, and from there Northeast Entrance Road to, of all things, the Northeast Entrance. Along the way we saw a bear or two, many buffalo, and various other wildlife. We also encountered that standard for Yellowstone, the tourist traffic jam that occurs whenever anyone spots a wild animal.

Lesson two: Best to take it easy along this road because you never know when you’ll come swinging around a blind curve only to find a mass of cars stopped dead in the road to look at some critter.

We then hit our final construction delay within sight of the park entrance. Ended up sitting there for about 20 minutes before we could finally leave and continue on to our next adventure, the Beartooth highway.

Biker Quote for Today

She asked me to tell her those three words every woman wants to hear, so I said “Let’s go riding.”

Don’t Drop The Bike

Monday, June 26th, 2017
motorcycles lined up

Riding with buddies means you have assistance if you drop the bike. But sometimes you’re not with other riders.

One of the most annoying – not to mention embarrassing – things you can do is drop your motorcycle in front of the whole world. I’m not talking about going down, which is when you wipe out at speed. Dropping the bike usually happens in a parking lot as you’re trying to turn sharply with almost no speed. You lean the bike a little too far and suddenly 600 pounds of falling motorcycle overrules any thoughts you had of remaining upright.

The good thing about dropping the bike in a parking lot is that you have friends or at least helpful strangers to help you lift the bike back up. But sometimes it’s not that easy.

When friends can’t help

We were out on the first day of one of the early OFMC summer trips, and John was riding his brand new Honda Shadow. Bill was in the lead and as we passed a lake he spotted a dirt road running down to the lakeshore. Figuring it to be a good place for a break, he turned in and John followed, with me behind.

The road quickly got steep and rutted, not the type of thing we like doing on street bikes, but at this point we were committed. It was easier now to go forward than try to turn around.

Then John started losing it in a rut. The Shadow was leaning precariously and he had his foot down trying to keep it from going any further.

“Ken, help me. Help me!” he yelled frantically but I was dealing with ruts of my own and before I could do a thing to help John I first had to stop my bike in a stable location and get the kickstand down. John dropped the bike.

Fortunately I was there, we righted the bike, and rode on down to the shore, where Bill was wondering what was taking us so long. Riding back up we managed to avoid any mishaps.

When You’re Alone

Friends are great to ride with but sometimes you ride alone, at least I do. I was crossing Nebraska one day on U.S. 34 and spotted a farm road heading north from the highway that looked like a good place to stop and stretch my legs. I knew it had rained the night before but the ground look dry and firm. What I could not see was that it was only the surface that was dry, while underneath the earth was soaked.

There was solid gravel for about 20 feet away from the main road and rolling at about 3-4 miles per hour I hit the end of the gravel and my front tire splooshed into deep mud beneath what had appeared to be firm. In slow motion the wheel slid to my left and the bike and I went down to the right, with me dumped into the mud hole. There was no one else around.

Now, I know how to pick up a bike and I had done it before. You cock the handlebars as far as you can to the side it’s laying on, back into the saddle and tank, grip the hand grip and whatever you can get a hold of with your other hand, and then stand up carefully, lifting with your legs.

But I was in a mud hole. Have you ever tried to get firm footing in a mud hole? The first few times I’d start to stand up and my feet would slip and down we’d go again. I finally dug my heels down far enough to reach something a little more solid and did get the bike upright. I was now standing in a mud hole with my back to the bike. I had to very carefully turn around, very carefully throw my leg over the seat, and then hope the bike would start. It did and I inched my way toward solid ground until I could finally relax.

Then I turned around, got back on the highway and stopped at the first town I came to. I got a motel, ran the bike over to a car wash to get the mud off, and spent a good part of my evening cleaning mud off my leather jacket.

Given the choice between annoyance and embarrassment, I guess I’d choose the embarrassment. At least then you have someone to give you a hand.

Biker Quote for Today

Instead of trying to blend in and be like everyone else, I became a biker.

Old Bikes, Empty Roads, Riding Skills

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
old motorcycles

There were just a few old bikes at the Ameristar when I stopped by in the middle of the day. Everyone else was out riding!

The Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) is holding a get-together in Black Hawk this week so what more excuse did I need to take a ride up in the hills? Besides, we’re setting new heat records down here in Denver so a little cooler air can only be welcome. Of course, considering the event, I rode my 1980 CB750. It may not be an antique but it sure ain’t some spring chicken.

Bill and I rode to Black Hawk two Saturdays ago and the road up Clear Creek Canyon had a sign warning of road work and grooved pavement, so we took a different route. That sign was gone so I headed up Clear Creek.

As expected, there was a good bit of excellent, brand new asphalt and there wasn’t a lot of traffic. In fact, after awhile it got odd how little traffic there was, and then there was suddenly an endless stream of vehicles bumper to bumper. I (correctly) deduced there must still be some road work up ahead and at least one spot where the road is down to one lane. Fortunately I got there just as the throng in front of me started to move so all I had to do was slow down and keep cruising.

The gathering place for the AMCA was the 10th floor parking garage at the Ameristar Casino. Who ever heard of a 10th floor parking garage. But in fact it’s just a parking garage and you go all the way up to the top, at the 10th floor. I knew the group had a ride planned for the day and I didn’t expect many bikes at mid-day and again I was correct, but there were some, such as those in that photo above.

I only stayed around long enough to give the Ameristar some cash–just because they’re such nice folks, you know?–and then headed toward the Golden Gate Canyon road to head back down. There were way too many trucks in Clear Creek Canyon. I considered going down via Coal Creek Canyon but while I was in Black Hawk the wind kicked up quite a bit so I went with Golden Gate Canyon.

Good choice. There was nobody at all on this road. That is, there were just a few vehicles going the other way but I didn’t see any at all going my way until I was almost all the way down, at around Mount Galbraith Park.

So it’s not that I was trying to go fast but I bet I made it down that road in record time, for me at least. There was just nothing and nobody to slow me down. I went zipping along, straightening out the curves, and just generally having a really fun time. Just the kind of thing motorcycling is all about.

About halfway down, however, I started feeling the heat again. It was cool up high but hot and getting hotter down low. Thank goodness for my mesh jacket.

Then I had one more interesting encounter on my way home. Getting off 6th Avenue onto southbound I-25 traffic was backed up way more than I could see any reason for at this time of day, so it was stop and go. Except there was one guy on a Suzuki sportbike in the lane to my right who was refusing to so much as dab a foot. I might have been able to do that, too, but I wasn’t inclined to do the work. And it is work.

You have to simultaneously rev the engine so gyroscopic force keeps you and the bike upright while feathering the clutch and modulating the brakes so you go slowly, slowly, slowly. You’re always monitoring the gap in front of you as it shrinks and widens. It takes concentration and it is work. I just did the stop and start thing, riding most of the time with my feet just skimming the pavement. But I was enjoying watching him, and in all the time I could watch him he never once dabbed.

Good riding, dude!

Biker Quote for Today

Meditation doesn’t mean you have to sit still.

That Funny Smell Of Gasoline

Monday, June 19th, 2017

I’ve wondered about that smell of gas for a long time.

Don’t you love it when you solve a mystery that has puzzled you for ages?

I’ve had my 650 V-Strom for what, three years now? And from about as far back as I can remember I have noticed this smell of gasoline when starting off on a ride. It has gone away after awhile and there has never been a problem so I’ve just lived with it.

Now, I did ask Ron Coleman to check it out once when he was doing some other work on the bike for me, but he couldn’t find any problems. And of course because by the time he was looking at it it had been ridden awhile, he couldn’t even detect the odor of gas.

So Judy and I were just about to take off on this four-day ride with Willie and Jungle and friends a couple weeks ago and I decided to do something that, frankly, I don’t do often enough: check the oil. First I had to figure out how to check the oil. That’s how negligent I am.

I pulled out the owner’s manual and it said to rock the bike up on the center stand, start it up and let it warm up, then shut it down, wait about three minutes, and then check the sight glass on the side. So I rocked it up, fired it up, and then started looking around to find the sight glass. Not on the left side so I moved around to the right side.

The engine was still running, still warming up, as I crouched down to look for the sight glass. That was when I spotted a rapid drip of what was clearly gasoline coming from directly underneath the gas tank. Whoa, golly! I shut it off and told Judy we had a sudden change of plans and she needed to shift her gear from the V-Strom bag to the Concours bag. And off we went on the Concours.

Now it occurred to me that it would probably have been OK to ride the V-Strom, considering I’ve been riding it for years with this odor of gas, but I didn’t want to take any chances. So this past Tuesday I took it over to Joel at Mountain Thunder Motorsports and gave him the low-down. I explained that he needed to let it sit and then fire it up and look for the drip.

He called me a couple days later to say he had found the problem, a gasket getting old that would allow gas to pass out when dry, but would then soak up fuel and seal better. The bad news was that the gasket is an integral part of a larger part and that part is only available from Suzuki for $230. With labor the fix will cost me $500. Oh well, it’s only money, right?

Biker Quote for Today

Just bought bike parts . . . let’s see if I have enough money to eat.

Ride Your Motorcycle To Work On Monday

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Drivers are cruising along thinking, “My gosh, there are a lot of motorcycles on the road. I better be extra careful I don’t change lanes without seeing one, or turn in front of one!”

Ride to Word Day banner

Monday is a day when you should make it a
point to ride to work.

That’s the kind of thinking we would love all drivers to have going on in their heads, isn’t it? Well what are you–yes, YOU!–to make them think that way?

How about this. Ride your motorcycle to work on Monday, June 19. That’s this coming Monday.

Monday, June 19 is Ride Your Motorcycle to Word Day. The idea of this effort is to inculcate exactly the sort of thinking described above. Flood the streets with bikes and make drivers shake their heads in surprise at how many motorcycles there are out there. Make them aware we are there and hope that they will connect the dots to realize that they need to do that head check rather than just glance in their mirror. That kind of thing.

I could go on about the whole philosophy behind this event but why bother? This is the gist of it. Just ride your bike on Monday.

Biker Quote for Today

Hospital gowns don’t come in black leather. Ride aware.

Riding Practices Of Different Groups

Monday, June 12th, 2017
motorcycle atop Skyline Drive.

Every group seems to have its own approach to how to ride together.

Going riding with Willie and Jungle and some of their friends a week and a half ago I was very interested from the outset to see if this particular group was into staggered riding. It didn’t take long at all to figure out the answer was no.

Do we need an explanation? Staggered riding is where each rider alternate taking the opposite side of the lane from the rider ahead and behind them. That opens up sight lines and gives each rider a better view of the road ahead, and it also doubles the space between each rider and the rider directly behind them, which makes for safer riding.

I do a lot of my group riding with the OFMC and that is a group where staggered riding is not the norm. There have been a few of us who have lobbied for doing so but most of these old farts don’t give a hoot about it. Finally I resorted to always riding last so I can put myself in the position I desire and have no one behind me to sit right on my tail or anything.

With the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Riders Club, on the other hand, riding staggered is absolutely the norm.

So with Willie and crowd, we gathered in Pueblo and set out the next morning headed for Lake San Isabel. There were only four bikes at that point and Jungle took the lead. Kevin and Bonnie were in the number two spot, Judy and I were third, and Willie was in the rear.

The dynamic shaped up very quickly. Jungle stayed largely in the middle of the lane. Kevin stayed largely on the left so I took the right, although at any given moment Kevin might drift over. I just kept a good distance. Willie, in the rear, always stayed so far behind it didn’t matter where she rode.

The next day we had added a couple bikes but it was pretty much the same. Nobody but me seemed to pay any attention to keeping staggered. Oh well, it’s not like I was going to make a big fuss about it. I prefer riding staggered but if it really mattered a lot to me I would not ride with the OFMC. But it was interesting to be with a different group and see how they do things.

Biker Quote for Today

Wait! I do not snore! I dream I’m a motorcycle!

Very Pleased With Our New Sena Communicators

Thursday, June 8th, 2017
Sena helmet-to-helmet communicators

Our new communicators are a huge improvement over what we had been using.

Sometimes you just need to spend the money, and afterward you’ll be glad you did.

For some years Judy and I have been using these early vintage UClear bluetooth helmet to helmet communicators but they have not been wonderful.

They were good in the beginning but technology had moved on and they were not doing so well now. On our snow-interrupted ride a month ago Judy could hardly hear what I said and while I could hear her, at any time she wasn’t speaking I was listening to loud static. Plus, we had always had a hard time getting them synced and in communication with each other. On that particular trip we probably used them less than half the time for all these reasons.

Back at home afterward I started looking around to see what was on the market today. Then I headed down to Fay Myers Motorcycle World to look at both communicators and helmets. It was my good fortune to hook up with Eddy at Fay Myers because Eddy spent a lot of time with me and was exceedingly knowledgeable.

I walked out with a pair of Sena SMH10 communicators.

Setting them up in the helmets was a pain but not a big deal. Then we had to figure out how to work them and it took some trial and error. We took a quick spin and found they worked much better than what we had been accustomed to.

The real test came last week when we were out on our four-day ride with Willie and Jungle and friends. The verdict: They’re great!

First off, the speakers are smaller so they’re much more comfortable than the old ones. They have greater volume potential so if we couldn’t hear well we could turn up the volume. They had no static, though we did have issues with wind noise across the microphones.

Most importantly, linking them and initiating communication is dead simple, and it works. On our old communicators we would follow the directions again and again and finally, at one point or another, they would work. Sometimes we’d just give up and go ride without them. These work quickly and easily every time.

You can call us satisfied customers.

Biker Quote for Today

Who needs a time machine when one twist of my wrist will leave you in the past!

Riding For The Fun Of It

Monday, June 5th, 2017
Up on Skyline Drive

Some of the folks on this ride had never been up on Skyline Drive, at Canon City.

Just home yesterday from a four-day ride with a bunch of folks. It was Willie’s birthday (and our wedding anniversary) so what the heck, why not go for a fun little excursion.

I’ve mentioned Willie and Jungle numerous times before. They live in Eagle and Willie runs a motorcycle tour company called Ball O’ String Custom Adventure Tours. Willie did the planning and organizing for this excursion so we knew we were guaranteed to have a good time.

We met up the first night down in Pueblo, Judy and I having taken the scenic route through the mountains to get there, rather than the interstate. At that point we had one Yamaha, two beemers, and us on my Concours. Plus there were a few folks in cars. Hey, no need to exclude people just because they don’t ride.

We had a birthday/anniversary party at the home of friends in the area and got the trip off to a good start.

Next morning we headed west out of Pueblo on CO 96, otherwise known as the Frontier Pathways Scenic & Historic Byway, to Wetmore, and then south until we hit the Greenhorn Highway, CO 165. This took us by Bishop Castle, though we didn’t stop at this point, on to Lake San Isabel and our quarters for the night at the San Isabel Lodge.

After unloading and settling in we headed back to Bishop Castle where we were to meet more folks. Just as we arrived the skies opened up so it got a bit wet and muddy, but what the heck. Everyone who had never seen Bishop Castle was properly impressed and those of us who had been there were–as always–interested in the ever-changing progress Jim Bishop has made since our last visits.

While there we also spoke with a couple guys on beemer dual-sports, one of whom had ridden the day before from Billings, Montana, to Denver, and the two of them had come here and were headed on yet to Creede that day. Serious riders here.

Back at the San Isabel Lodge we now had another Concours and two Harleys added to the group. One of the cabins had a huge main room, dubbed the Grand Ballroom, where everyone could gather and more birthday partying ensued.

Come morning some of the group rode directly to Cripple Creek but the majority of us went to Canon City where we rode the Royal Gorge train up through the canyon and back, with lunch served. Then it was on to Cripple Creek, with a detour to do the Skyline Drive loop. Then west on US 50 to pick up the back route to Cripple Creek.

Still more people joined us in Cripple Creek, so when we headed out to a dinner buffet there were 19 of us altogether. And once again Willie was serenaded with “Happy Birthday.”

Sunday morning then it was time for folks to go their separate ways. Judy and I headed north to Divide to pick up US 24, to Woodland Park, and then north the way we had come down originally. Lots more people–and a heck of a lot of motorcycles–on a Sunday than on the Thursday morning we had come down. And then back to Denver and home on US 285. It was a good little 450-mile, four-day run. And now, as always, we’ve got a whole lot of stuff to catch up on here at home. Ah, travel!

Biker Quote for Today

To every biker girl her helmet is her crown.

Guanella Pass Now Has A Page Of Its Own

Thursday, June 1st, 2017
Guanella Pass page.

I just got a new page up for the recently paved Guanella Pass.

Well, it took me awhile. It always does. Guanella Pass has been completely paved for at least a year now, maybe longer, I don’t recall, but I only just now got it up on its own page on the website. Plus, a few days earlier, I set up the Motorcycle Camping on Guanella Pass page, with info about each of the four campgrounds along this road.

Previous to this–and previous to it being paved–I had this pass up on the Dirt Roads and Side Trips in Colorado page. Not any more.

The reason it takes me so long to get these things done is that there is so much involved. First I had to go ride the pass a few times, shooting photos and jotting down pertinent information. Then in the middle of it all I got this GoPro camera so I went and rode it again shooting video so I could include some video highlights of the ride.

Well, you can chalk that one up to learning how to use the GoPro. I won’t bother you with more detail of that, only just say there is no video on the page at this point. And the photos are basically OK for now; I had to patch together a bunch from several different trips up there over the course of several years. At some point I’d like to make it less of a hodge-podge.

I also decided I want to make Guanella the first of a second batch of web pages that are designed to be mobile friendly. Something you can view easily on your smartphone. And along with that I wanted to use an interactive Google map rather than the static Microsoft Streets and Trips maps I’ve always used till now.

Once again, there was a learning curve but I figured it out and that is what this new page has. There is an issue, though, in that at least on my desktop computer the map loads very slowly. Like, five to ten seconds, during which time there is just this empty rectangle. I may swap out the desktop version with a Streets and Trips map, while keeping the mobile-friendly page with the Google map.

And oh yeah, I haven’t got the mobile-friendly page ready yet. You can’t just do a copy and paste. What works on a big screen usually doesn’t work very well at all on a tiny screen.

I won’t bore you either with all the little tweaks necessary to integrate a couple entirely new pages into the overall website. Let’s just say there is a ripple effect that no one but me would even be aware of.

Now it appears they are finally paving the west side of Cottonwood Pass. I guess in about a year I’m going to need to do this all over again for Cottonwood.

Biker Quote for Today

Oh, you ride a motorcycle? That explains why you’re getting so many women.