Monday, July 20, 2009

Spice of Life

Variety. What a world we live in that we have the option of hundreds of different makes, models, sizes, shapes, and colors of two-wheeled entertainment! My Dad just bought his first bike: a Yamaha Star-950, and graciously allowed me the opportunity to try it out. Before getting into the meat of this post, allow me to caveat that I am much more of a sport/sport-tourer guy than I am a cruiser guy. But beyond that, I am definitely a motorcycle guy. So onward...

My first impressions of the V-Star 950 were of its excellent ergonomics. The bike was easy to mount, the controls well-placed, and the seat height pleasantly low. The mid-size weight of the bike felt very manageable. My Dad got the touring package, so it included the side bags and windscreen. One minor negative was that the voluminous side bags are not large enough to hold a full face helmet. The windscreen seemed excellent for around-town use; most will probably want something a bit larger for heavy-duty touring.

A turn of the key and press of the ignition was rewarded by a very nice exhaust note. The sound is beefy and low without being obnoxious. I snapped it into first gear and pulled away smoothly. The clutch required very little effort and had a nice wide friction zone. The throttle response was a bit jerky at the slowest (walking) speeds, but quickly became steady at anything above that.

I was a bit hesitant on turns because I had heard that cruisers in general, and the 950 particularly, do not allow for very deep lean angles. But what I found was that the bike actually handles quite well. I made some pretty sharp slow-speed turns without incident. I did not try to get a knee down or anything, but also didn't have a problem scraping the floorboards.

What I ultimately learned was how fun it is to ride something as different from my normal experience as a cruiser. If you are in the market for one, I recommend you take a peek at the 950. It offers a great selection of features at a rather economical price point. And the new engine is fuel-injected.

Now who has a Ducati 1198 that they'd let me try...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scratch That Itch!

I have read many posts recently from motorcyclists who, due to injury, vacation, work, or other interruption, have to take time off of riding. They frequently lament the fact that riding is a crucial part of their lives -- one that is sorely missed when absent. I wholeheartedly agree! I find that if more than three days go by without riding, I start really missing it. I am a motorcycle addict.

But scratching the riding itch is not the intended subject of today's post. I refer instead to the most horrific condition known to the motorcyclist: the itchy nose. A herd of deer bounding into the road? Bah. Potholes the size of lunar craters? Who cares. The psych ward at Bellevue driving hummers and talking on three cellphones at once? A mere triviality. Going 65 MPH on the freeway and having an itch flare up on ones proboscis? Epic, monumental, tragedy.

I have tried all manner of solutions. The "jam fingers up the chin gap and waggle them around" technique is spotty at best, and impossible if you have a well-sealing helmet. The "throw open the visor, violently poke the itchy spot, and close the visor before angry bees or chunks of road hit you in the eye" approach often leads to temporary loss of eyesight -- and worse, the itch remains. "Letting go of the itch in a zen-like meditative state wherein you accept that suffering is a natural part of life" only seems to anger the itchy gods. And the whole idea of just "pulling over and properly dealing with the situation" is, of course, absurd.

So my helmet's off to those who wear the hard plastic yarmulke! They may be missing the front of their face when they have an unplanned dismount, but their nose will not itch.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where Angels Tread

Father's Day! My Dad and I met for breakfast at a local eatery and then headed off on our very first excursion on the (in)famous Angeles Crest Highway. The day was absolutely perfect for riding: about 75F and partly cloudy. Our first stop was at the fork that leads to Mount Wilson Observatory -- locally known as "Red Box Road". There were a few other motorcycles with the same pitstop in mind, and we got to talk all things two-wheeled after lightening our load a bit.

Continuing along the Crest for another nine or so miles brings you to Newcomb's Ranch Restaurant and Bar. As can be seen in the picture, Newcomb's is a very popular place with the motorcycle set. We spent fifteen minutes just walking along the front looking at the enormous variety of bikes.

Inside the eatery was to be found cold soda and the Superbike race on big screens! What a terrific way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The only blemish on an otherwise perfect day was an oncoming 900-pound full dress Harley that apparently thought of the double yellow line as more of a suggestion than rule. Thank goodness for quick reflexes.

Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday River Ride

My Dad and I took a leisurely sixty-mile ride up to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and back today. The weather was overcast and cool, and the traffic was very light for a weekend. In short, perfect riding conditions! We stopped at the campground where the road ends and looked down on the river below for a while. We've gone fly fishing in the river in the past, though only caught planted trout in the 6"-8" range.

A nice ride back down the hill and we stopped for a soda at Williams Camp. Everyone -- from the rangers to the hikers to the store clerks -- were very friendly and welcoming. We waved at many other bikers as we passed.

I recommend the road as an alternative to the ubiquitous (and fast-paced) Angeles Crest.

Monday, June 1, 2009

These Boots Were Made For Ridin'

I have owned this pair of Sidi Vertigo Air boots for nearly a year now, and with the sole exception of rainy days, do all of my riding in them. I have worn the boots 50-60 hours a week many weeks in a row with no discomfort. I love the fact that they are dead simple to put on (one full-length zipper and a top velcro flap), offer terrific protection, are breathable (have perforated uppers), have a built-in closable air vent, adjustable calf, and are comfortable on and off the bike. Truly a race-quality boot for everyday wear.

My Sidi Canyon boots have also been around for nearly a year, though have gotten a lot less use than my Vertigo's. I bought these for rainy days: they have a full goretex membrane, are very waterproof, and offer thick soles. The Canyon's are also very comfortable. They feel like they are much more solid than the Vertigo's due to the full-length velcro flap closure, cinch-down foot strap, and chunky sole. Unfortunately this contributes to less feel on the bike -- my feet are really insulated from everything, even the shift/brake foot controls. That being said, they are my go-to boots when the storms roll in without question.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

That's The Ticket!

The family went out to dinner last night at a local Italian restaurant, and seated one table away was a motor officer with the California Highway Patrol. I decided to take advantage of this situation and ask for an expert's summary of the laws involving lane splitting. The officer was delighted to help and spent ten minutes educating me on the law:

Lane splitting in California is defined as riding between two lanes of traffic. The first infraction is obvious: riding between the right-most lane and the shoulder. The shoulder is not a lane of traffic, so is illegal to ride on or split.

The second infraction is not so obvious to most: the car pool (ride share) lane is separated from the main freeway by two solid yellow lines. This means that it is considered separate from the other lanes -- it is a different road entirely. Because it is only one lane, there is no other lane to split with. It is illegal to ride between the car pool lane and the left-most regular freeway lane.

I hope this saves you a ticket, and leave you with this:

Q: Why don't ride share lanes go under mountains?

A: Car-pool Tunnel Syndrome.

Friday, May 1, 2009

One Bear, Two Wheels

I have owned numerous two-wheeled vehicles over the years, and my path to riding a motorcycle as my primary vehicle has been quite an unusual one. I thought it would be interesting to take a trip in the way-back machine and follow my two-wheel evolution:

My first experience with two wheels was astride a red banana-seat Huffy. This bike provided quite a taste of freedom to a budding eight-year old. I remember attaching numerous gadgets (farkle?) to it in order to simulate engine noises. I even mounted a water jug in the frame as a faux gas tank, and poked a small hole in the bottom so the 'gas' would run out as I rode! Good times.

The early eighties ushered in the age of the chrome-moly, mag-wheel, BMX. Mine was a surprise gift from my Dad -- a silver and black beauty of a bike. I felt unstoppable astride its thick frame. This bike carried me through the eighth grade before finally being retired.

My entry into high school was accompanied by a brown Schwinn ten-speed bike given to me by my step-father. Sitting perched atop its narrow seat took some getting used to, but the ten gears made it all worthwhile. My mom started sending me to the store for milk and such (a 14-mile round trip).

A long two-wheel hiatus into adulthood and I bought myself the cadillac of mountain bikes: a 2003 Cannondale Jekyll 1000. 21 gears, "Lefty" fork, hydraulic disc brakes, and all the trimmings. I even rode it a few times.

A coworker of mine brought his GoPed to work one day and allowed me a test ride around the parking lot. My initial nervousness melted instantly and I had to have one for myself. I even commuted on it during the summer -- my job was only two miles away. Can't beat 140 MPG, too!

The first GoPed with a true seat and chain drive was the logical upgrade for me. I commuted on this wee death trap for about a year. The GoBike was the cause of my most serious crash to date: I gunned the throttle at a green light, but was leaning back too far. The front wheel pawed the air and I was thrown off the back. Unfortunately, I was still holding on to the throttle and the bike dragged me across the intersection. Shorts did not provide much in the way of protection. Lesson learned.

The same coworker brought his Vespa ET-4 scooter to work and generously allowed me a test ride. The leap from 50cc glorified skateboard to 150cc full-fledged scooter was awesome. I immediately began looking for my very own. I prefer a more modern aesthetic than the traditional "Vespa" style, so ended up buying a Piaggio BV-200. I got my learner's permit and practiced on city streets for about nine months before getting my license. I later ended up selling it to that coworker.

At this point I was completely smitten by scooters and lusted after something bigger. Of all the options at the time, the 500cc Aprilia Scarabeo had the best features and style. I loved the larger wheels, the larger engine, the built-in topcase storage, and the classy look. Unfortunately, a change in my employment situation necessitated that we part ways.

I have always been attracted to innovation, and that is what caused me to purchase a Piaggio MP3 scooter. Riding one is quite an experience -- the two wheels up front provide an amazing degree of stability and traction -- yet it still leans like a traditional two-wheeler. While it was an entertaining reentry back to the world of scooters, my ownership was short-lived. Just a few months later Aprilia released the...

...Mana 850. Holy cow! An 850cc V-Twin mated with Italian style, faux tank storage, and an automatic CVT transmission!!! My dream "scooter". The Mana was an absolute delight in and around the city. I happily commuted the seven miles to work on it. Technically I still own the Mana, though I have loaned it to my Dad who recently got his license.

My job moved from seven miles on surface streets to twelve miles on the freeway. At the same time, the lease on my car ran out. I was faced with a decision. And if you've read this blog at all, you know that I bought the first bike that replaced having a car for me: the Yamaha FJR-1300.

Who knows what the future holds?