A Ride With A Motorcycle Travel Network Guest

July 10th, 2017
Map of our route.

Our route.

It strikes me as odd realizing this but I’m pretty sure that with all the various Motorcycle Travel Network guests we have hosted, I had never before gone riding with any of them. Until this past weekend.

Carolyn called about mid-week to ask if we were able to host her for two or three days beginning either Friday or Saturday. She was in Spearfish, SD, at the time and headed our way to go on to Colorado Springs for a Women on Wheels event there. And she also asked if it would be possible for us to go for a ride with her, showing her some of our favorite places to ride. OK, it’s a plan!

She got in on Saturday later in the day and on Sunday, with Judy not joining us, we headed out, her on her 950cc Star cruiser and me on my Concours. We went out Hampden/US 285 to C-470 and north. I wavered all this time as to whether we should go up Clear Creek Canyon or something else. I figured she would enjoy Clear Creek but I wondered how busy it was. This was, after all, the Fourth of July weekend.

So we got to US 6, Clear Creek Canyon, and made the turn. We had gone about 100 yards and came to a stop and it was clear that traffic ahead of us was not even moving. We quickly did a U-turn and headed back, turned north again, and took the Golden Gate Canyon road up to the Peak to Peak Highway. I was afraid it might be busy, too, but it was fine.

Originally my plan was to go to Estes Park for lunch before heading back but thinking about the holiday I decided instead to turn east down the South St. Vrain to Lyons. While that’s a very scenic canyon, there was very little traffic. All the traffic, we could see when we reached Lyons, was going up to Estes via the North St. Vrain. And coming down it, too. Terrible, terrible traffic.

So from Lyons we headed south on US 36 to Boulder, crossed through Boulder on Broadway, and continued south and back to Golden. Then I got the idea to go up Lookout Mountain. Carolyn is sort of from Ohio, sort of from South Carolina, and the tight turns on the Lookout Mountain road were a bit challenging for her but, with the exception of the first one, she managed to stay on her side of the line.

We enjoyed the view from up at Buffalo Bill’s grave and then continued on that road over to I-70/US 40. No reason to get on I-70 with US 40 right there so we rode it down to where the road down to Morrison crosses under the interstate and took that road to Morrison. Then east to pick up C-470, US 285/Hampden, and home. Total 171 miles and a really nice ride up in the cool on a very hot day.

Biker Quote for Today

Forget glass slippers, this princess wears motorcycle boots.

Refreshing And Enhancing Skills In The Experienced Rider Course

July 6th, 2017

Bob (left) and Will, the other students in my ERC.

I took the Experienced Rider Course (ERC) once before. In fact, it was the first rider training course I ever took. Since then I’ve also taken the Beginning Rider Course twice, a dirtbike riding course, and I did the Rider Coach Training course, although I never worked as a Rider Coach. Here’s a tip: it never hurts to take a riding course–you always learn something new and improve existing skills.

The primary focus of this ERC I did on Friday was tight maneuvering. That wasn’t all, of course. The overall point is to learn to be a better rider everywhere. But if you can handle a big bike in tight quarters, handling that same bike in the wide open spaces is just that much easier. And sometimes that extra bit of control can make all the difference.

So I’ll get right to it. The number one thing I got out of this course was understanding what it takes to make a big bike make a really tight turn. Maybe you’ve seen these riders doing circles on big baggers that you couldn’t even dream of doing on a little 250. How the heck do they do that?

Don’t think I’m going to claim that I can do that now. But I am a little closer.

Bob, the instructor, talked about counter-weighting. If you need to lean the bike way over you also need to move your body the other direction to balance that out. Counter-weighting. To do this you put your weight on the outside peg and lean way back.

But the thing that got me was his instruction to keep your inside arm straight. Think about that. You’re turning left, you’ve got that left grip tucked in close to your body, and yet you need to keep your arm straight. If that’s not going to keep your weight off to the other side nothing will.

Fact is, I wasn’t sure it was even possible. I mean, OK, let’s say you’re riding a sport bike with little clip-ons. That seems doable. But my CB750 has a steer-horn handlebar that is 31 inches from tip to tip, and sitting upright in the saddle with the wheel turned as far as it can go the grip is about five inches from my stomach. I’m supposed to keep that arm straight?!

Guess what? It can be done. I couldn’t go it right off, but we went around again and again and I kept pushing myself and after awhile it happened. I’ve never made tighter turns with that bike in my life. I admit that the thought of putting weight on my outside peg never crossed my mind, though I suspect that happened naturally.

Most of the rest of the course was a refresh. We practiced techniques I know but maybe was a little rusty with. But then, I’ve taken this course before, as well as others. If you haven’t ever taken a riding course there’s probably a ton of stuff you’ve never learned. I don’t care if you’ve been riding 40 years I bet you’d learn something new. And you’ll be a better rider.

Is there any reason in the world that that would not be a good thing?

Biker Quote for Today

I hate being sexy but I’m a biker, so I can’t help it.

A Homecoming Of Sorts For The Experienced Rider Course

July 3rd, 2017
motorcycle training course

Bob sets up cones on the course for the next exercise.

I’ve always been a big proponent of rider training and that led to an offer for me to take another course at no charge. The assumed quid pro quo was that I would then write about it. Well, of course I would, I write about just about everything in my life that involves motorcycles.

So on Friday I went up to Thornton to BLACK B.A.G. for the ERC, or perhaps it is now considered the BRC2. I’m not totally clear on this but I believe the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s old Experienced Rider Course has been totally revised and what had been the ERC is now considered the Beginning Rider Course 2. Doesn’t matter.

There were three in my class: me, Bob, and Will. Bob rode dirt bikes as a kid but hadn’t ridden anything after about age 25 until in November he bought a Kawasaki KLR 650. He took the BRC then and was back now for the ERC/BRC2. Will is a National Guardsman who needed rider training certification in order to be allowed to ride his V-Max on base.

The instructor is also Bob. And Bob is a good instructor. He inserts enough humor to keep things fun and he has developed effective techniques for eliciting participation from the students. Participation requires attention and thinking, and those enhance learning.

Knowing I was going to be doing tight maneuvers and, who knows, might even drop the bike at some point, it was easy for me to decide which bike to take. Both the Concours and V-Strom are tall bikes with big gas tanks up high. I rode my CB750 because it is lower and has a much lower center of gravity.

What I didn’t think about until I got there was that this was sort of a homecoming. I lived up on the north side of town, in unincorporated Adams County,for 17 years before moving to southeast Denver 21 years ago. When I bought my first motorcycle ever, my 1980 Honda CB750 Custom, this was where I lived. I learned to ride on that bike and when it came time to get my motorcycle accreditation on my drivers license I went to the Motor Vehicle office in this very shopping center where BLACK B.A.G. now operates. I took, and passed (on my second try), the riding skills test on this very motorcycle that I was there on for training on Friday. This is where it all started.

There’s no question I’m a much better rider now that way back then. A lot of that is simply experience, but there’s a good bit of it that is due to all the rider training courses I’ve taken over the years. We talked, for instance, about making U-turns on narrow roads. My buddies in the OFMC universally do Y-turns, jockeying back and forth, while I slip the clutch, ride the rear brake, and easily ride the U-turn at walking speed. I learned that in these classes.

So what did I get out of this latest one? I’ll get into that in my next post.

Biker Quote for Today

Some take drugs, some drink bottles. I solve my problems by twisting throttles.

Examiner Resurrection: Touring Yellowstone On Motorcycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!