Mid-Life Rider

rambling through mid-life on motorcycles

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Why we blog; kind of like why we ride

March 11th, 2008 · No Comments

Someone asked me the other day why I blogged. I hemmed and hawed and didn’t really have an answer. It goes with the other question, “Why do you ride?” Ah, not so fast! They’re surely not from the same root! Maybe, maybe not.

I’ll get to the blogging point in a minute, but I have just finished reading a book by Melissa Holbrook Pierson called “The Perfect Vehicle”. She has this to say about that.

The world reliably divides into two neat portions depending along which axis you skewer it. Those who do, those who don’t; those who would love to, those who would never dream of it if they had all eternity. See how fast the two halves split and fall away when yo mention you ride a motorcycle. Side one: Really? Oh, I’ve always wanted to ride one! Side two: Really? It’s so dangerous.

And later . . .

Those who harp on danger are perhaps more to be feared than anything they target. We are, as a nation, in the midst of an explosion of fear. In obsessing about it, we embrace it. We promise ourselves rest once all danger–from products not dressed in layers of tamper-proof plastic or from the top steps of ladders or from the winter flu–has been anticipated, addressed, and put down forever. But I could tell you something about how fear never lets you rest, how prolifically inventive, how colonizing of a previously unowned area, how wasting fear is, particularly at night. And soon it will own the day too.


The Perfect Vehicle

Melissa Holbrook Pierson. W. W. Norton & Company 1998, Paperback, 240 pages, $15.95

Why we ride is to celebrate that we are alive. Why we blog is to leave a record of our celebration. Too much? Sometimes we ride just to get there? It’s just a bike for chrissakes? Maybe. I think you need to go ride some more and get back to me.

I got off on this tangent when a friend of my daughter sent me some links to two of his trip blogs (he’s getting ready to go on another). These are warm, witty, colorful records of good and proper motorcycle journeys. Not just trips. They’re worth pawing through.

MotoSlow 2006 - Kevin, Dave and Zena take 30 days to travel across the US on old, slow motorcycles with the occasional night of Lindy Hop dancing..

MotoLindy Europe 2005 - Kevin, Dave, Mark and Joel spend 10 weeks motorcycling from Lindy Hop City to Lindy Hop City across 13 countries in Europe.

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The Story of My First Bike: Ric Short

March 11th, 2008 · No Comments

Ric is a buddy of mine. I asked him to tell the story of his first bicycle. Not that it matters, but he’s got serious credentials with me for many reasons, not the least of which is that he’s the builder of a truly special bike called the “Camaro Bike.

Here’s his story . . .

I grew up poor. Times were tough and we didn’t have much. It was the summer of 1965 and I had just turned 5. Lyndon who? More like Meet The Beatles! And GI Joe for me.
 
My father came home with a rusted, broken down old bicycle. No handlebars, a totally ripped-up traditional seat, no fenders, no tires, and a broken pedal.  I learned that he had pulled it out of someone’s garbage. I knew it was bad, but that pedal really had me worried.  All I could see was shame and ridicule.  But Dad had a vision.
 
Step 1: He took it all apart and sanded the frame down to the bare metal.  You can DO that??!??!?! Then, he asked me what color the coolest bike in the world would be.
 
Step 2: I was angry with him that, even after I had told him that PURPLE was the coolest, he painted my frame a matte gray, the color that I now recognize as primer. This bike sucked!
 
Step 3: I checked back in on the bike a little later and WHAT!?!? It was purple!  Not some lame lavender purple, an awesome purple – like the coolest bike in the world would be.  How did he do that? That frame looked so cool and naked hanging there in the shed.
 
Step 4: What the!?!?!  I came home a few nights later and there it was.  Magically, brand new monkey bars with new grips - and the whitest ribbed vinyl banana seat in the world were sitting on my purple frame.  And the pedal was replaced!  Suddenly I understood just how cool NO FENDERS could look.  I loved that bike (though I secretly longed for a really high sissy bar).
 
Step 5: When I rolled that bad boy out onto the street I was the man.  Then came the moment of truth. I had to LEARN HOW TO RIDE a two-wheeler!  With my friends totally digging my bike, I climbed on and struggled around a bit.  Eventually I got it going – going really well – until I crashed.  The kids ran up to me and told me how cool the bike looked. I forgot about the crash and hopped back on – maybe they didn’t notice that I was just learning!
 
I only had two other bikes after that. The next was a really cool banana bike WITH a tall sissy bar (hated it). Then came the obligatory mid-seventies 10-speed that I bought with my own money for $100.  My FIRST bike was, by far, my coolest bike.  I’ll never forget it.
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Book Review: Total Control by Lee Parks

March 10th, 2008 · No Comments


Total Control

Lee Parks. Motorbooks 2003, Paperback, 192 pages, $26.95

If you buy just one book on motorcycle riding technique, this would be the one to get. It’s clear, well written, and well illustrated. More importantly, it tells you the good stuff. Starting with “traction control.”

Lee is a “motorcycle entrepreneur.” I don’t know how else to describe him. He writes books. He makes fabulous gloves. He teaches teachers to teach his philosophy of riding (I’m an initiate). He probably does some other things as well, but you get the idea. Being a committed motorcycle junkie doesn’t make his book worth reading, but it’s not a bad start. To save you looking him up, here’s what he has to say for himself . . .

Riding since the age of 12, you could say I have motorcycling in my bones. My greatest joy is sharing the motorcycling experience with family and friends. This passion eventually led me to work in the motorcycle industry.

I started racing in 1984 on the frozen lakes of the Midwest with an RM80-based ice racer. Since then, I have participated in just about every form of road and off-road motorcycle competition, and recently earned my first national championship in the 2001 G.M.D. Computrack WERA National Endurance Series in the Lightweight class. I also earned the #2 plate in the 1994 AMA 125GP nationals.

As the editorial director of Motorcycle Consumer News and Auto Restorer, I had the privilege of scientifically testing hundreds of motorcycle and automotive products, often to destruction. This taught me a great deal about materials, production and quality. I now put that experience to work in every product I design and market.

Looking for a new challenge, I founded Lee Parks Design in April 2001 after spending more than eight years as a professional motojournalist. My mission is to create innovative products and services to help riders achieve “better living through motorcycling,” and help companies better serve their customers. This site is the first step in that direction with a few, select, state-of-the-art items.

There. That takes care of that.

The whole of the book can be summed up in the first sentence of the first paragraph: Riding a motorcycle is really an exercise in traction management.

The book is organized into five sections.

  • Chassis Dynamics
  • Mental Dynamics
  • Body Dynamics
  • Machine Setup
  • Rider Setup

Different people will be drawn to different parts of the book. I’ve read more than a few so some of the content was very familiar to me.

The bits that you should be extra attention to in my mind are these . . .

Steering Technique

I would start by memorizing and then practicing this until it’s second nature.

It is my ardent belief that when cornering, you should use only your inside arm to steer. This includes both pushing and pulling when appropriate.I recommend this because it’s extremely difficult for both arms to put reverse inputs into opposite ends of the bars in precise unison while simultaneously allowing enough “give” in the steering for gyroscopic precision to do its thing. (pg 21)

Suspension

If you don’t know the your suspension basics, this is a good place to start.

Line Selection

Good general advice and excellent drawings of proper lines in the real world.

Throttle Control

I am completely and totally convinced on this one. I use this technique whenever I’m not just poking around town.

After mastering rolling on and off the throttle slowly and smoothly, the next step is to transition back and forth with the brakes. This time, as you slowly roll of the throttle, roll on the brakes. This means you will be applying varying levels of throttle and brakes simultaneously. This may sound strange, preposterous even, but you will be amazed at how this settles the suspension, keeping the bike from pitching forward and backward. (page 63)

I have written about this technique in all my ride reports. For example, here’s a snip from a ride down the Oregon Coast.

The road across the Tillamook forest is brilliant. It darts briefly across farm country and then shoulders its way up and into the woods like some mythic wisp beckoning the hero onward, onward.

I watch the air temperature reading out of the corner of my eye on every approach. The road is shaded as far as I can see and the pavement is still wet from the drenching last night. 48 degrees on the gauge is reassuring, but not conclusive. I don’t press. I look for good lines and move my body off the bike to keep the FJR as upright as possible. I trail the front brake in combination with a live throttle to take up the driveline slack and take out the hitch from right off dead throttle. It’s all about being smooth and I am.

Braking

Lee is a believer in using both brakes. This is hardly a unanimous position amongst riders yet alone racers (very few admit to even knowing where to find the rear brake). I know that on my FJR, the brakes are linked so I’m always using them both in some combination. On Ducatis and Aprilias, the rear brake is for decoration. They do nothing and feel like you’re pressing on wood. Here’s what Lee has to say.

Remember, anything that abruptly interferes with the suspension can cause a significant loss of traction. For this reason, it is important to apply the brakes simultaneously and as smoothly as possible.

Applying both brakes simultaneously will help stablize the chassis and keep it from pitching forward too quickly. (pg 73)

Body Positioning

If you have no experience with “hanging off” the bike, read this chapter more than once. It’s an eye opener. That thing you may have seen racers do on TV is something that all riders need to know how to do. I’ve seen guys do it on dirt bikes (on the road) and Harleys.

The basic idea is to get your mass inside the centerline of the bike before and while it’s leaning over. Not to worry. Unless you chop the throttle closed and coast to a halt, nothing bad is going to happen. Only good stuff actually.

Lee describes ten steps. It feels like a lot to remember when you’re reading it, but with just a bit of practice, it comes naturally.

  1. Reposition the foot (get your toes out of the way so you don’t scrape them). On a cruiser, this isn’t important.
  2. Pre-position the body. This is where the action is. Get at least your upper body inside the vertical centerline of the bike. If you’re riding a standard or sport bike, get a lot more than that over to the inside (looking at pictures helps right about now).
  3. Hold the bike upright by pushing on the outside grip. So if you’re going to go right, your body is off to the right side and you’re now pushing on the left grip.
  4. Find your turn point. Most riders don’t do this. They just sort of go around the corner. Instead, you want to pick a place to turn in and wait for it.
  5. Look through the turn. This is MSF 101. While doing that, definitely scan your line to make sure you’re not missing anything.
  6. Relax the outside grip. I think about “releasing” the outside grip. The feeling is that of the bike dropping into the turn. The first time this happens, it can feel pretty weird. The last thing you want to do right about now is chop the throttle. Maintain some forward thrust please,
  7. Push the inside grip. At this point, if you have your weight to the inside, the bike will be heading off in a whole new direction. Now you can see why you want to find and wait for your turn in point. If you need more turning, this is when you add some counter steer. Gently. Sometimes this feels to me like pulling the bike down to me.
  8. Roll on the throttle. Roll means be smooth with it. Your bike is still leaned over so you’re splitting traction between turning and going.
  9. Push the outside grip. This will pick the bike back up. Keep rolling on the throttle as you do.
  10. Move back to neutral. That’s you and your body back in the center of the bike.

Suspension Set-Up

For many new riders, adjusting the suspension seems worse than witchcraft. Assuming you have a bike that allows for some adjustment, this chapter steps you through everything you need to know to do it properly. You’ll need your owner’s manual, two friends, a tape measure, a piece of paper, a pencil, and a couple of hand tools. It’s helpful if you still remember how to multiply and divide.

So go buy it

There is additional content on gear and some other bits and bobs. Lee spends several chapters on the “mental” aspect of riding. I like these chapters least of all. Not that it’s not important. Read my blog to see how much I think about the mental aspect of riding. It’s just that I find other ways to manage my concentration and attention more useful.

Not wanting to end on a down note, let me go back to where I started. This is an outstanding and useful treatise on how to properly ride and control your bike. It applies to any rider riding any type of bike on the street. Better still, take the class.

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Conversation with Moira Zinn: Elite Track Day Entrepreneur, Mom, Rider, Wrencher

March 10th, 2008 · No Comments

Moira Zinn is so on my list of cool people. The story about how her husband proposed to her is right out of a movie.

Moria was referred to me by FJRChick. She and her husband (the one with the great story) own Elite Trackdays down in Texas. That’s a good story too. I get a lot from this conversation, not the least of which is “follow your dream.” If not now, when?

Read and enjoy
 
Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing.

My name is Moira, I’m the proud mother of two daughters ages 10 and 13.  In past lives, I’ve been a geek, project manager and office administrator.  I’ve also worked in customer service, in call centers both on the phone and in management.  Right now, I am a full time student.  My husband has supported me with my plan of getting my degree. After being laid off in the summer of 2007, my husband and I decided to start our own company earlier than we originally planned.  I am surrounded by some incredible talent on motorcycles, I’ve included them in my company.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years. ‘d love to hear the story of starting your business.

Evan and I had this vision, both of what we loved and really disliked when we had done motorcycle track days in the past.  With that vision in mind, we had planned on starting our own company in either 2008 or 2009.  I was laid off from my job during the summer of 2007.  That opened the door for me to have the time to manage my own events. 

This year, my business has changed slightly.  I am now the motorcycle division for a new road-course almost ready to open slightly South of me.  With this opportunity, I am not only doing motorcycle track days, but building an actual motorcycle academy.  So, from here out, Elite Trackdays is about education more than just track-play-time.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

Man, if I could remember the date, or even year, I think I would be happy!  It was probably late 70’s on the back of my father’s CB-350.  I can still remember the smell of my orange glitter three-quarter helmet… it had one of those yellow bubble shields that snapped onto the front.  *sigh*

On my own, 1992.  It occurred to me as an idea to get my Motorcycle License.  For many my age, it wasn’t a good or bad idea - it just wasn’t ever an idea.  I started on a Honda CB-1 that my ex-husband had created from a 1989 and 1990 model.  Looking back, it was probably the best motorcycle to start on.  It was small, under-powered, and not too heavy.

This feels like a dopey question, but say some things about how you experience owning and riding a bike as a woman? 

At one time, it was a novelty.  I was “different”.  Now, what makes me different is the fact that not only am I passionate about motorcycles, but I can be a good champion for that passion.  Where men are sometimes dismissed as “mid-life crisis” or “crazy” for wanting to ride.  Women are seen as “adventurous”.

Do you feel like you’re making a statement? 

I’ve never thought of it that way.

Do people respond to you differently when they find out you ride (or find out the person under the helmet is a woman)?

Yes.  

How many bikes have you owned?

Honda CB-1, Kawasaki ZX-11, Ducati 998, 748, M900

How many bikes have you ridden?

I don’t even know.  I mean, I have friends that will just throw me the keys - case and point, a girlfriend of mine had purchased a new bike and then received her orders from the Army to spend quality time in Iraq.  She gave me power of attorney for her brand new SuperHawk, handed me the keys and fled the country.  Another few friends… Triumph Speed Triple, Aprilia RSV-R, dirt bikes and track bikes alike.  I’ve been to Femmoto for three years, so the  demo opportunity grows as time goes by.

What do you own now?

Ducati 998, 748 (2002) and (1994) M900.  The 998 is my engagement *ring*.  As my husband proposed, “If I know you the way I think I do, you will appreciate a KEY ring more than a ring” as he opened a velvet box with the 998 key on a keyring.  Both the 998 and 748 are track-only.

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

I usually put on a few hundred miles at the track every Monday and Friday.  So, about 20,000 miles on the track.  Probably less than that on the street.

Riding gear (street) of choice?

I wear a Dainese Ducati leather jacket, Suomy Spec 1R helmet, SIDI Vertigo Corse Race boots, Spidi Penta Sport Gloves, Tourmaster Cortech DSX Denim pants.

Riding gear (track) of choice?

Dainese, Suomy, SIDI, Spidi… I wear a Dainese Ducati full suit, Suomy Spec 1R helmet, SIDI Vert Corse Race boots, Spidi Penta Sport Gloves.  It has taken me quite a while to figure out fit and performance, as there seems to be a disconnect with the gear manufacturers and the fact that women actually RIDE motorcycles.

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

It’s just me and the bike.  I now know that it’s a way for me to remove my thoughts from an overloaded mind.  Some people will say, “Don’t ride emotional”, but I believe that is the best way to get me to relax.  When I’m on the bike I focus on riding, I don’t have the ability to focus on other things.  Therefore, it gives my mind a break from those other emotions.

You told a great story about your husband. Did one of you start riding before the other? Was it something you discussed? Were there issues? Were there deals made?

My husband and I both rode before meeting each other.  In fact, we met at a Ducati-bike-night.

Do your kids ride?

Yes.

What do you think about when you ride?

Riding, that’s all I think about.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

I don’t.  I mean, I’ve had it put toward me by family and friends.  And it weighs on my mind after a close friend has been injured or lost their life.  But, it is something that I cannot dwell on.  There are so many things in the world today that can kill you.  I have decided to pay attention, bubble-wrap myself as best as I can, and proceed to live my life.  I think of it as calculated risk.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

Pay attention to the small stuff.  Start small, and take it easy.

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

It really depends on so many factors.  Street or track riding?  Size of rider?  Driving ability?  Attention to detail?

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

I do my own maintenance.  I know, it sounds so very ho-hum.  But, sitting in the garage, explaining how the bikes work, what tools are needed, how do take it apart or put it together… doing all that with my daughter.  That is, by far, the coolest thing I’ve done yet.  I think her being interested and asking questions makes it all that much better.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Get to the track.  Not necessarily to race, but to better know yourself with your bike without outside distractions.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

My 998 is that bike to me. Though, it would be dreamy if I could get a 1965 Ducati Mach 1 single for the street.


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Not what I had planned. Tales of Riding the Oregon Coast (for a day)

March 10th, 2008 · No Comments

FJR and helmet

It’s Friday night. It’s raining. I’m in a hotel in Tillamook, Oregon. This is not what I had planned.

“This is not what I had planned.”

More and more I have noticed myself having that reaction. Which more and more makes me reflect on why I have so many plans. I mean think about it. How many things go “the way I had planned?” In asking, let me also warn you about the all-to-familiar tendency to move the goal posts afterwards. But I’m ahead of myself.

For the past ten days or so I had been planning to ride down the Oregon coast to visit a long-time pal who lives in Ashland. Weather permitting. It’s not that I think of myself as a wimp, but I’ve had my share of riding all day in the pouring rain and I can live without it. So I wait on the weather, not committed to making the ride but not committed to some other course of action either.

I have a packing list so that’s not what requires planning. Riding gear, GPS, map, tools, dop kit, a change of socks, a pair of jeans, a book or two, camera, cell phone, charger, a bunch of protein bars . . . Check, check, check, and check and I’m good for a couple of days or even a week.

No, it’s the weather. All week long I watched the weather reports and the promise of “opening the storm door” to the 457th storm we’ve had this year in the Pacific North West. Dither. Dither. Dither. Go. Don’t go. Go. Don’t go.

“Sorry, I won’t be in town after all.” That in an email from my friend.

“No worries. Maybe another time.”

This is not what I had planned. So now what? Should I still go for a ride?

The weather report was beguiling Thursday night. Low percent of this. High percent of that. I could invade Iraq on less intelligence than this. But isn’t the point the ride and not the destination? So I packed up my gear, set my alarm, and slept.

Brrrrrring. Grog. Stretch. Groan. Whassat? Sun?

I could hear the FJR calling from the garage. Time to stop planning and start riding. So I headed south towards the Oregon Coast. Beyond that, I had no plan.

A Case of Just in Case

So much of motorcycling is “Just in case.” Think about it, if you knew for a fact that the weather would be “perfect,” that you would encounter no debris or unpleasantness on the road, and that you absolutely would not crash or even wobble, you would approach riding differently.

You’d ride like a God and dress like a lifeguard is what you’d do.

Actually, a lot of people, usually with brand new licenses, ride this way as a matter of course. The rest of us hope they learn fast before they learn costly.

I am not that way. I am all about “Just in case.” I pack tools and a tire kit and pump. I wear electric gear under my riding suit. I bring an atlas and a GPS. I run a radar detector. I keep Advil, Chapstick, and Tums handy. I have a camera. I have a cell phone. I have two credit cards. I have an extra set of keys.

All, “Just in case.”

I actually revere the act of suiting up to ride. I would do it even if there were no “just in case.” I’ve thought a lot about this and I think it goes back to suiting up as a little guy to go outside and play in the snow. The snowsuit, plastic bags on my feet, boots, jacket, gloves, and hat find their happy correspondence with my Kevlar gear, Sidi Boots, Gerbings heated clothing, REI poly pro, Lee Parks golves and Suomy helmet.

I love all the zippers and Velcro. Each layer closes me in to the point where it seems like I can barely move. But once on the bike, the sum of it seems to work together to provide support and structure and the feeling of impermeability. I feel ready for a nuclear attack should one happen along the way.

The combination of “just in case” and “I have no plan” and “it’s not supposed to be that way” often coexist quite nicely. Sometimes they grind on each other like a persistent snore.

My preferred state is to have a general destination in mind and to stay present in the moment. Then, whatever happens is whatever happens. I have no judgment. It just is. “Just in case” recedes out of view.

I find this attitude centering and useful when I ride. If someone cuts me off, I notice it, but I don’t react. “Hey @$#*&” is just another version of “it’s not supposed to be that way.” Same with the weather. Same with the conditions of the road. My riding buddy Ron talks about this in terms of “taking what the river gives you,” a term that makes eminent sense if you’ve spent any time in whitewater.

I aspire to this Zen-like state of calm off the bike as well. The truth is, those moments visit me infrequently when I’m not riding. I find them more on a bike, which is surely one of the reasons I ride. Or that’s what I tell myself.

Rolling, Rolling

One of the things I like especially about riding is that you don’t have to go somewhere to do it. I think about that over the two-days that follow whenever I see pickup trucks loaded with or towing dirt bikes, quads, horses, boats, kayaks, skis, or snowboards to name just a few. In all cases, these folks have to go first, do later. It’s that interregnum that I don’t like.

Today, I just ride. From the moment I clear the garage door, I am doing the thing I set out to do. It’s different when I ride on the track, but only slightly as I ride my bike to the track too.

On multi-day rides, the first miles and last miles of each day tend to disappear without notice. Thoughts of leaving and arriving drown out the moment of the actual riding. I forget that I’m on the bike and not in a good way.

But not the very first miles of the very first day. Everything is fresh and new like I’ve never seen it or done it before. The motor winds, the transmission shifts, the exhaust inhales and exhales in rhythm with the twist of my wrist. I notice each detail. I feel every sensation. The bike is speaking. The road is speaking. “We’re finally free!”

As the miles start to gather beneath the tires, that sensation of being fully switched on fades into the background. These first hundred miles or so don’t invite much concentration. Riding the slab is like that. In the past I have alternated between mindless daydreaming, and very purposeful concentration, this later state being nearly as distracting as the former. Today, I play the meditation game, bringing my thoughts back to center, to the feeling of the bike beneath me, or the sound of the road, or the smell in the air.

“Just be on the bike,” I think. “Nobody is watching.”

Finally I am off the slab and on the coast road. I now have a destination vaguely in mind: Specifically south along the coast; generally towards Coos Bay. Despite my best efforts, I find myself wanting to hustle. Not so much to get there. I’m resolved that I will stop and sleep whenever it’s time to stop riding. No, it’s because there is open road ahead of me and I want to gobble it up.

In the back of my mind, I write stanzas for a future blog or maybe a book. And then I think I will need photos to testify to my presence on this ride. And then I see something that seems photo worthy. And then I really feel like I need to press on. There is road to conquer. There will be cars up ahead I will need to pass and there are surely those cars behind that I’ve already dispatched. And besides, pictures are for tomorrow. The road is for today.

Peeing My Way To Pictures

Nature has a way of bringing stops to my goings. It’s not that I can’t hold it, it’s just that I can’t hold it for longer than about 100 minutes when I’m riding. Put it down to age, vibration, and the fact that I try to stay hydrated.

Although I’ve already peed at the last gas stop, a sign alerting me to “Fresh Oysters” just over the bridge I’m about to cross inveigles. “Why not?” I think. I haven’t really gotten into a rhythm yet. So I peel off to see about Oysters.

As it happens, I picked out the first place I saw Oysters but it wouldn’t be the last. The mountains, and I do mean mountains of shells that visit the edge of the road along the way are just remarkable.


This place proved to be of the “small and quaint” variety. As I was about picture-taking, I bent and stretched to turn stacks of plastic boxes into photographic-art. And yes, I snapped the obligatory seagull picture. But I ate no oysters then.

The California Coast Highway is duly and properly noted for its scenic splendor. It’s also besieged by RVs, campers, and happy snappers looking for the next place to pull over. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to ride it but they do. On weekends no less.

The same road in Oregon, at least on this grayish Friday, doesn’t suffer from half the load. The FJR and I lope along, occasionally passing the odd truck or camper, but mostly staying well in hand. I have no plan, so everything is “not what I planned” but in a good way.

Junk Along The Way

The weather is a frequent and forceful visitor to the Oregon coast. Most of the towns along the way exist for reasons that are long forgotten and it shows. Some have staked a claim to the tourist trade that plies up and down during “the season,” and for this ambition, the traveler is treated with promises of hot tubs, cable television, and rooms with a view. Some of the towns have scrubbed up some of their old buildings and entreat further with art, food and wine, and souvenirs.

But a lot of it is just plain beaten down by the incessant salt air and the bumptious winter rains. There is a general grayness to everything man made that seems to match the color of the sky.

Man and the elements have both been less than kind to the trees. My shock at the countless old stalwarts lying completely uprooted is trumped only by the ugly wreckage left by logging. I find myself lost in an environmental calculus where there would be less of this sort of thing, but I run out of ideas for what to build houses out of. Maybe we should just build fewer of them. That means we should have fewer people. You can see where this was going. So could I. So I stopped and went back to “being on the bike.”

Seeing a place for the first time brings different things to view for different people. I have an uncanny eye for the flotsam and jetsam of modernity. Back when I took taking pictures really seriously, a colleague of mine said that I “took pictures of nothing, better than anyone” he’d ever seen. He meant it as a compliment. I took it as one.

So here in the midst of all of this natural coastal splendor, the tree-wreckage notwithstanding, I find myself stopping to take pictures of a partially sunken boat and a big pipe-thing. Yeah, I had to pee, but it was the boat that made me stop.

Where Will I Sleep Tonight?

I think a lot about commitment. For a living I help people work out difficult decisions. One of the first things we talk about is the idea that decisions are “irrevocable allocations of resource.” It sounds wise and it is, but people struggle at first to sort it out.

Motorcycling is all about those kinds of decisions. It’s all about commitment. It starts when you begin to pack. I travel light to begin with, always figuring I can buy my way out of a stained shirt or a ruined pair of jeans. Riding is a bit different.

I have many pairs of gloves, each different in some meaningful way. I can’t take them all with me, there simply isn’t room. Just like I can’t take all my tools with me. Just like I can’t take any number of things I might fancy for fun or “just in case.” So I have to do what the Templar advised and “choose wisely.”

I think about this particularly when I grab a helmet. The one I’m wearing is light but it’s noisy. The one I didn’t is a bit heavier but quieter and a bit more comfortable. But I haven’t ridden long distances in it yet and it’s not fitted for the heads-up display I use with my radar detector. 100 miles down the road I’m not going to turn back because I now prefer another. And I’m not going to buy a replacement. They’re bloody expensive! So every choice is made with care. Commitment.

This sense of making real choices shows up when I simply must choose this road over that road. I don’t have a plan, but I still have to choose. If I take that road, that means I am not going to ride on this one. This has always plagued me.

Which road will have the least traffic? Which will have the best scenery? Which will be in the best condition? Which will have the most entertaining twists and turns. And just to make it even more delicious, I have no assurance that I’ll be back this way again, so now I really want to make a “good choice.”

In the end, it’s better to not have a plan. That way you don’t torture yourself over the road not taken. That way you don’t hear voices in your head from people you don’t yet know and have not met counseling on the “other road.”

Even more metaphysically, you just don’t know what’s on the road you’ve chosen until you get there. And you’ll never know what’s on the road you didn’t pick.

All of this rattles in a non-specific way in my head as I clear Tillamook on my way south. I’ve given up on Coos Bay. Too far I think. I had scaled back my ambition to Newport and was working on Lincoln City. But even those vague plans changed as just south of town I became aware of three somewhat related things.

  1. The clouds were looking full and angry.
  2. I had to pee (again).
  3. And what the heck is that gigantic hanger-looking thing that says “Air Museum” on it doing out in the middle of the field?

I actually went past at first but kept getting a very strong sensation that I should turn back. I’ve been around enough to know that you listen to those voices. You heed those sensations. To the unnamed voice of the unknown person I heard whispering “wimp,” I just nodded and smiled. Who knows what lay down that road at that time? Not me.

I didn’t actually go into the hanger. In retrospect, I wish I had. It turns out they have one of the best collections of WWII birds anywhere. The whole place had a wonderfully second-rate ambitiousness to it that seemed charming if the rivers of Zeus weren’t getting ready to visit from above. I snapped a couple of pictures and thought briefly that if I ever had more money than God I would buy a DC3 just like the one parked just inside the hanger. And then the skies opened with a vengeance.

I backtracked with all the fervor of the converted and ducked under the breezeway of the Shilo Inn on the outskirts of Tillamook. It is 4:00 in the afternoon on Friday. It’s raining. I’m in a hotel in Tillamook, Oregon. This is not what I had planned.

But this is where I was. I had a couple of books with me figuring I would treat myself to some uninterrupted reading. It’s just that the “not-plan” that had been forming on the way south included a clever little B&B on the water, a room with a view, and a fine meal of local Oysters and a local brew to wash it all down.

Instead, I supped at the Shilo Inn Restaurant beneath a too-dim overhead light, sitting in a booth covered in material not as fine as the saddle of my bike. The Oysters, however, were fresh, local, and done brilliantly. The beer was cold, local, and just right. The soup was tangy and tasty. The bread was warm with a proper crust and a moist center.

This was not what I had planned, but if I closed my eyes, it was pretty damn good.

The Road Taken

I slept well but woke often. I had a few weeks before installed a new top-clamp made by a guy called Motorcycle Larry, the purpose of which was to move the relative position of the handlebars up and back. It’s a terrific piece of kit, beautifully made. The addition of an inch here and an inch there has done wonders to ease the pain I often feel in my shoulders and back. But the front forks no longer seem to lock and I haven’t brought another lock with me. So I worry about the bike.

This was not what I had planned.

I finally rolled out around seven to the site of dryish roads and an overcast that hinted at moving on. I briefly toyed with the idea of heading further south, but there was something about riding in the opposite direction from home on the day I intended to sleep in my own bed that just didn’t work for me. It never does.

I always lament this horse-like tendency to want to hightail it home on the final day. This is made doubly so on this day because I have no need to be home at any particular time. My wife is out of town until Wednesday and this is Saturday. But I still feel that urging to go back the direction I came. So I compromise with myself and head sort of North but mostly East.

The road across the Tillamook forest is brilliant. It darts briefly across farm country and then shoulders its way up and into the woods like some mythic wisp beckoning the hero onward, onward.

I watch the air temperature reading out of the corner of my eye on every approach. The road is shaded as far as I can see and the pavement is still wet from the drenching last night. 48 degrees on the gauge is reassuring, but not conclusive. I don’t press. I look for good lines and move my body off the bike to keep the FJR as upright as possible. I trail the front brake in combination with a live throttle to take up the driveline slack and take out the hitch from right off dead throttle. It’s all about being smooth and I am.

I have noticed off and on how different the FJR is from the Aprilia that I recently bought and have been mostly riding. Those first few miles yesterday I reveled in the sybaritic comfort of its big saddle, wide bars, and “sit up and beg” riding position: the concepts of “big” and “wide” being completely relative.

Out on the twisties the big FJR comports itself well given it’s heft. Each input has to be given with conviction. With the Aprilia, an intention is usually enough.

As is usually the case, a curve hard to the left means another like it to the right will surely follow. Sometimes they’re right on each other. Sometimes you get to catch your breath. Sometimes you can see the expanse of several linked bends ahead. Sometimes the trees or topography makes that impossible.

Whether I’m riding at 5/10s or 7/10s (not even 8/10s on the road), I always want to do it the same way. I can tell I’m getting tired when I skip a beat.

Set up to the outside.

Scan the pavement and pick a line.

Shift my weight off the bike.

Hold the bike up with the off-hand.

Balance the throttle and the front brake.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Now!

I release the off-bar and let the bike drop into the corner. If it’s tight, I pull the bike down towards me by pushing on the inside grip. Sometimes there will be a car coming behind me or coming the other way. I’m not playing Rossi here, but I have to guess the sight of my ass hanging off the big blue bike is cause for comment.

If the next turn is RIGHT NOW, I climb up over the top and repeat the process going the other way, thrilling, I must say, as I feel the bike swing from lean to lean like the prizefighter it is. Trust the bike. Trust the tires. Ride with commitment. The FJR does not let me down.

Can You Ever Really Get Lost on a Bike?

Up Route 5 is Woodland, Washington. I don’t know what it’s there for, but I do know it’s the southern gateway to Mt. Saint Helens and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This is to be the centerpiece of my second day on the bike.

I gas up and check both my map and the GPS. I know from having ridden the road once before from the other direction that there are several opportunities to go this way or that and I’m not wanting to get lost.

Get lost. What an odd concept when you’re riding a bike, without a plan, in the moment. And yet there it is. That familiar feeling of going and doing in service of a goal and a destination that rules so much of my life.

“Don’t get lost.”

“Um. Errr. Okay. What if I do?”

“You’ll have to backtrack. You’ll lost time.”

“Um. Errr. Okay. What if I do?”

There is no answer to where this is going, for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’m playing both parts in this conversation. The whole point is to ride: To make the bike go down the road in a pleasing, even thrilling way. The sooner I “get there,” the sooner the fun is over. Why not get good and lost?

But I don’t set off that way. I now have a plan. Not a complete plan, but a plan to ride up the east side of Mt. Saint Helens to route 12. I promise myself that I will journey up Windy Ridge to see the great expanses. Once at route 12, I’ll either head east or west, depending on how I feel.

I ease out of town. Two patrol cars sit door-by-door, the drivers passing time talking about whatever nonsense they witnessed last night, waiting for some hot foot to miss the posted limit.

Motorcyclists dream about Route 503. Even if they’ve never heard of it. As the trees close in around the blacktop, the road shakes itself, ready to take on anyone ready to try.

“Motorcyclist use extreme caution.”

“Curves next zillion miles.”

“[arrow to the right] 25 mph.”

The signs beckon and promise like some evil witch just a few miles out of town.

And then the road is on me, throwing a mean left followed immediately by a hard right. The big FJR and I settle into a familiar rhythm. The bike dances underneath me, pounding back at the uneven pavement, but never placing a wrong foot. I’m off the bike, knee hooking the tank while staying light as I can on the pegs, waiting for the bike to settle before I throw my next move.

There are no great lines, only good ones. There are no good curves, only great ones. And I have the road to myself.

I rotate the bike from full lean to full lean, working back and forth between second and third gears, pushing but not pressing. I remember to breathe. I check the air temperature. I check my speeds. Even at 6/10s I’m working it. The road beguiles and seduces. I breathe some more and back off my pace.

To my right, Lake Merwin passes a hundred feet below me. With all the storms this year there should be more water in it. It shouldn’t be this way. But it is. Still. It’s stunning.

Twice I stop. The signs aren’t clear and I haven’t paid that much attention to whether or not I should be going to Cougar or Battle Ground. I had set my GPS to go to Randle but it was determined to route me back the way I came. I trusted it but didn’t.

To my left, Lake Merwin passes 100 feet below me. I had done it. I had gotten lost. But not just average lost. I had gotten the kind of lost that now had me right back where I had started in Woodland, WA. Literally within ¼ mile of the Shell Station I had left an hour ago. I felt briefly like I was in a Nicholas Cage movie.

I could feel the anger rising in me. Breathe. Turn around and go back the other way. Moments later I’m really tearing it up. No more 6/10s. I’m hammering back at the cursed road that had led me so wrong. Flying around a corner knee nearly on the ground it struck me.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m rushing to get past this absolutely breathtaking motorcycle dream road to get to some other fabulous road so that I can . . .”

Breathe. Relax. It is supposed to be just the way it is.

The red mist having subsided, I returned to less athletic ways, worked the road back to where I had make a “wrong turn,” and finally got myself pointed north towards the waiting Windy Ridge and thereafter Randle.

The road staid pure, taught, and angular, jutting this way and that as we gained altitude. The air temperature gauge indicated 48 degrees but the deepening piles of snow on the roadside told a different story.

What’s this? A sea of pickups and SUVs pulled up like a North Atlantic convoy. People are gearing up, but to do what? What are those? Snowmobiles?

And then not 100 yards further. “Road to Randle closed. Blocked by snow.”

That’s when the absurdity of it all hit me. Not thirty minutes ago I was sweating and cursing in my helmet because I had gotten lost. And the road I was torturing myself to get to? Closed. The road that had annoyed me for making me ride its delicious curves twice was now laughing back at me. The sideshow was the main attraction. I was just too blind to see.

I rode a bit further up the mountain until that voice got after me again to “turn back.” So for the third time that day I headed towards Woodland, balancing the first signs of fatigue, with a draining gas tank, with the last great stretch of road I was likely to ride that day. I didn’t press but I did push, once again reveling in tangoing the big blue FJR down the mountain and through the woods, feeling the suspension working underneath me as the road thrust this way then that.

The Road Home

I’ve already said that the last miles home tend to disappear without much notice. Pounding up the freeway I’m no longer in the moment. I want to get home. My shoulder hurts. Then my knees. Then my back. Reports keep coming in from the front that all is not well. I move this way and that and never do find a completely comfortable position.

“It’s not supposed to be this way.”

“No, I suppose not.” But there is nothing to be done other than to keep pushing on.

This is not why I ride. To push on. I know too well how to do that in my “real life.” I know I can and I will. I’ll endure two hours of rank boredom and nagging muscles. It’s as far removed from what I was feeling during any other part of the trip as I can imagine. It’s like none of it every happened. Not the thrill of finally rolling out of the garage. Not the breathtaking coastal scenery. Not the piles of trees, shells, and junk. Not the sublime jousting with the mountain roads. All those thoughts and feelings are gone now. And it’s not supposed to be this way.

And then the signs say that home is only 60 miles away. Then 40. Then 30. Then ten. My muscles stop aching. The athletic feeling I have when I’m really riding vs. just sitting on the bike returns. My vision sharpens. It’s like I’m back from the dead.

The apartment will be empty. But I’ll be home. As the hot water pounds down on me from the shower head above me, I can still feel the sensations of the bike moving underneath me. My knees don’t hurt any more. My back and shoulder are still sore, but in a good way. I earned that pain riding my motorcycle by God. Not sitting at a computer or around some meeting table. And the next day I’m ready to do it all again.

© 2008, Copyright Mid-Life Rider

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Conversation with Mark Irving

March 6th, 2008 · No Comments

I met Mark on the FJR Forum. I love his story about buying and riding his first bike. I think a lot of us had different versions of the "30 minutes in a parking lot and your a rider" experience. Getting pulled over by a cop in front of his girlfriends house is priceless.

Tell me a little about yourself.

I’m a structural engineer for a smaller firm, designing low & mid-rise building structures (beams, columns, slabs, foundations, etc,) …been doing this about 20 years or so. Before that, whatever it took to put food on the table for my wife and me and pay the college bills as I worked while going to school at night. Before that - the goofball years, doing things my mommy and daddy told me not to do.

I’ve got a wife and three kids (middle school and high school). The wife rides with me about once a year or so up to SW Wisconsin. Except for one little jaunt down to Peoria with son#2, the kids haven’t been on the FJR except for little rides around town.

I’m the only one of my siblings or local friends that rides a motorcycle. My dad didn’t want me to buy it…my mom had no problem with it. She had six brothers (perfect Nebraska farm family. Lots of kids to do chores…) all of whom rode motorcycles. She got the first ride.

What was the first bike you owned?

My first bike was a brand new Honda CB 550F - purchased two months after high school with a small loan from the bank. No rider safety courses in them days, so a friend rode it from the dealership to a parking lot and showed me how to use the controls and watched me as I got acquainted with the bike by doing parking lot drills.

The next day, he wasn’t available to do that again so, being antsy, I rode the bike (w/o license) over to the girl friend’s house to show it off. As I’m about there, a police car following me puts on his lights and pulls me over right as I park in front of the house.

Yeah…a little embarrassed - okay, mortified - as her dad is mowing the yard and giving me a glowering evil eye. (He never did like me anyway). I got a nice chat with the police officer…and then had to call my friend over to ride my bike home. Talk about throwing a wet blanket on the whole day! HA.

How many bikes have you owned?

FOUR: 1977 CB 550F, 1979 XS ELEVEN Special (Stolen), 1980 XS 850 Special (Insurance money), 2004 FJR

What do you own now?

2004 FJR

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

10-15k (no commuting)

Riding gear (street) of choice?

If I had enough money right now, I would buy a good kevlar armored riding suit like Madmike. In the meantime, I will wear what I’ve accumulated since getting the FJR: Oxtar boots/shoes, kevlar jeans, Joe Rocket leather & mesh jacket with liner, Held gloves, full face Shoei, earplugs. Underwear of course.

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

My main reason for having a motorcycle is to see as much of this land from the seat of my motorcycle as I possibly can before I die -whenever that is. It doesn’t always have to be a curvy road…but it does have to be off the interstate 99/100.

I like to travel as if I have no destination in mind…just soaking up the wind, the view, the smells, the people by the side of the road that wave along the way. I prefer to go on roads I have not been down before when touring…and I prefer county roads -if decent- to State roads to US routes. The less straightening out of the hills and curves the better.

If I am touring, I am usually alone unless some like-minded person is available. That rarely happens but has had a better chance of it happening since joining the FJRForum.

Since getting my FJR in the Fall of ‘03, I have met some great individuals from the online FJR and STN forums. They have showed me some pretty spectacular roads and provided some great company at the various gatherings I’ve been to. It has increasingly been more about the people I’ve met and will meet - old friends and new friends yet to be. I have also increasingly enjoyed the twisty roads and have looked forward toward trips linking them together as I hear about them.

How does your wife feel about your riding?

Although I’ve had motorcycles previously, the FJR was something that appeared at home one day. My wife and I were never both going to be of the same mind regarding that regarding finances, etc. I just felt that I was gonna bust if it didn’t happen…so I had to take the plunge and hope that the consequences weren’t too dramatic.

After a frosty period, my wife has come to fully accept my FJR riding and trips - though she would probably rather that it never be.

Does she ever ride with you?

She does take a yearly trip - but has extreme pain with earplugs and though she can get the helmet on…it is too tight and causes alot of discomfort…therefore she is doubtful as a regular rider untill those two things are fixed…and a good music/comm system. However, she would rather not spend the money now to fix something that she would use only once a year or so anyways…so that is for when the kids are gone/or dollars float down my way.

What do you think about when you ride?

Everything…and nothing while lasily touring, proper technique and scanning when sport touring through curves.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the "dangerous" part about riding?

I do my part to be safe…and leave others to themselves. I try to make space…so if someone is going to make a mistake that hurts me…it is me and I can control that and not them (whom I can’t control).

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the "mid-life" rider now?

Take it slowly…pick your spots to take your chances and read up and learn by books and practice up your drills when coming back from a long layoff. Riding classes are a good option these days.

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

Any bike that you like that you can safely control. It’s about personal choices…I chose an FJR.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

Touring and sporttouring…for me there is nothing better.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Can’t really recommend one over another yet as I’ve not visited the West yet. But I can recommend…SE Ohio, SW WI, WV, MO/AR, Appallachians and upstate NY/VT/NH.

If someone handed you a blank check and said "go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

Sorry to be boring but the FJR is it for me. It does what I want and does it beautifully.

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We have a winner: The coolest thing on two-wheels is a Minenraumer

March 6th, 2008 · No Comments

This is just the coolest thing. Maxes the “coolest thing on two wheels” scale by a lot.

Here’s what you need to know, courtesy of Hemmigs Auto Blog And no, you can’t buy one . . .

Unfortunately, little seems known about it. It currently resides in the Kubinka, Russia tank museum, and the Russians captured it from the Germans after World War II. It appears to have just two “wheels,” but a little Googling on the term Minenraumer turns up some three- and four-”wheeled” versions, so the tailsection and third wheel in the above pictures could simply be obscured by the two huge front wheels (okay, so a three-wheeled version wouldn’t be as cool as a two-wheeled version). And according to one forum commenter out there, it was a joint project between Krupp, Daimler-Benz and Alkett and weighed in at 38 tons.

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The Story of My First Bike: My Dad Tells All

March 6th, 2008 · No Comments

My conversation with Michael Malvin got me thinking about the subject of “my first bike.” It feels like it might become a recurring theme here.

I remember very little about my first bike other than it was red and huge. Some years later, I took off the seat, handlebars, and fenders and converted it into a proper “stingray” at which point I was surely onto the fact that it wasn’t huge at all. Later, that bike along with several others were stolen out of my parent’s garage . . . a depressing event that had a habit of recurring from time to time over the next several decades.

I asked my Dad to fill in the blanks and he wrote what follows. I remember seeing the bike for the first time in front of the fireplace. I vaguely remember the tricycle he refers to early in the story. And I quite vividly remember the episode near Indian Landing School that he recounts towards the end.

The sad part in all this is that I don’t have a good story about buying my kids bikes. My wife reminds me when and where we did: “Mountain Bikes” From Hank and Franks, the nearby bike shop. That was the style of the time and they both got them.

My wife also reminds me that at the time, we lived at the top of a hill and you know the rest of that story. Both had epic crashed at the bottom while trying to make the turn. There were not hospital visits, but there was plenty of skin left on the pavement by both. Makes me queasy just thinking about it.

Enough. On with the story . . .

Kevin [that’s me] was born at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in 1956 where I was in a Regimental Combat Team (I was drafted after graduating from Law School).  From the beginning, he was independent, physical, daring and noisy, which meant that virtually from the time he was born, his mother had to keep a careful eye on him, as did I when I was available.  Once he got moving, he wanted to be out of his play pen; to move as quickly as he could; and to reach up and out for excitement.

He had a tricycle when he was not yet three years old.  By that time, he had been shouting something that at first was unintelligible, then began to sound like “boya-bike” and then was deciphered as his telling us, in his still undeveloped vocabulary, that he wanted a trike, and he wanted it right away.  Living by that time in Rochester, New York, with its sometimes abusively long winters, and also given that we lived in an unfurnished apartment and had little furniture, he rode his trike around the empty rooms with fierceness and determined speed that should have served as a warning to what was coming.  He was always noisy with excitement, and quite amused when he rode his trike into a wall or into what little furniture we had at the time (his Mom was not as amused as Kevin was).

I don’t recall when it was that he started pestering us that he wanted a two wheeler, but he got his small, well-used red two wheeler much before his playmates.  I had advanced a bit in my legal career, so by that time we had bought our first house and were living in a neighborhood.  Not being very mechanical, I am certain that however beat up it was, I did no work on it.  It could move and it was red, and that was enough.

Even the small red bike was too big for Kevin, but because he was so determined to ride it, I had to find a way to help.  I had to hold the bike carefully and get him up on the seat while at the same time getting him started, and off he would go.  At first I ran alongside him to be sure he was all right, but very quickly, he wanted no part of that.  I may have been concerned about this little kid hitting something, skidding, or skinning his knees, elbows and chin, and that happened, but some-times bloody Kevin wanted to be helped up and pushed off so that he could move forward at top speed by himself.

However, stopping was another thing altogether.  He wanted to ride his bike as fast as he could long before he figured out how to stop it (brakes seemed to be of no interest to him).  It may have been that he was too short to be able to stop and then let one of his feet hit the ground, because if he did that the whole thing would fall over on top of him. 

So, on many a balmy evening, he would want to ride his bike, especially when neighbors were around (he was something of a show-off even then).  Our neighborhood was laid out in a kind of oval, so he could ride around without having to turn around.  So,  he would come lickity-split down the street shouting at the top of his lungs “ Daddy catch –me, catch-me.”  And for the longest time, I did that, although sometimes he was coming so fast that I couldn’t stop him or could not do it correctly, and he would wind up in a pile at my feet.  My friends and neighbors got used to this, but I never quite did.  I guess that I would not have been apprehensive about it had it been someone else’s first born son, but to me this exercise, which often went on for hours and involved a great many pleas to “catch-me,” was scary then, although it is funny and charming all these years later.

One day, for some reason, Kevin and I went over to his school which was called the Indian Landing School.  In the back was a play area built at various levels because of the downward sloping ground.  I don’t quite know why Kevin decided to do this, and mind you he probably has just entered school, but he decided to ride down the hill on his red two-wheeler – in other words to really be a “boya-bike.”  By that time, he could get on his bike himself, get it started, and stop it.  Down the hill he went, but he (and I) soon realized that the bike was going way too fast, and that he was heading for a fall.  Since his feet were going around and around dangerously quickly, I had to do something and do it fast.  I screamed at the top of my lungs “Kevin, hang on, but take your feet off the pedals.”  I am certain I shouted it more than once, but he got the idea by lifting his feet off the fast moving pedals until he got it under control.  What might have turned into something serious ended turned into a funny story.  It also helped me to be quiet and reasonable, and not to yell at my foolhardy son.  (I don’t know that I ever got that right; I am still working on it.)

We did talk about it, of course, but all he could talk about was how much fun it was go at such a fast speed. 

I only recall Kevin doing that once, but thinking back on it, I suspect that Kevin went over to the Indian Landing School after that, figured the whole thing out, and raced down that hill at top speed many times.
 
Of course, as time went on, Kevin mastered his little red bike.  I don’t recall if his sister ever rode it, and I know that his younger brother did not because one day, we left the garage door of our house open, and someone helped himself or herself to the little red two-wheeler, which was a very sad occurrence.  It disappeared and so did the “boya-bike” who had grown to having a bigger bike which he sometimes, unaccountably, rode over curbs or into obstacles, but always with great gusto and great enthusiasm.

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Conversation with Michael Malvin: Why do I ride?

March 5th, 2008 · No Comments

I met Michael as a result of a thread I posted at FJRForum asking people why they ride.

He touches on a theme that I think resonates for a lot of us which is the connection to that first “Big Wheel”, or in my case, my first two-wheeler (a snazzy red number my Dad bought at a garage sale). That’s a story for another post, but I can easily conjure images of clambering aboard what seemed to be a very large bike at the time and feeling all the strange and wonderful sensations associated with those first rides. It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. It was often punctuated by the sounds of me shouting “Catch me Daddy!” as I threw myself off the bike and in his general direction as I went careening by.

Michael’s recounting of his ever-widening forays on his bicycle give meaning to the word “freedom” which we often use when talking about riding bikes. And it was and is. For a young kid, a bicycle multiplied both speed and distance by orders of magnitude, making it possible to venture further and further afield without the need to inconvenience, or more importantly tell, the adults in our lives.

Michaels’ story resonates with me in a big. Way. Change the name, change the details, and it’s like an archetypal journey. It’s Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth in action.


The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Mythos Books)

Joseph Campbell. Princeton University Press 1972, Paperback, 464 pages, $16.95

Read and enjoy.

Why did you decide to start riding?

When did it all really start? Technically? It started at age five with the Big Wheel. Come on… let’s face it racing down the street and then grabbing a handful of that side brake and gently steering into a long power slide… ahh the speed… the power … the exhilaration.

Then it was on to the Ross Apollo 5 speed complete with banana seat. By age 8 or so, all the boys in the neighborhood would constantly travel in packs on our bikes, building ramps and rarely stopping without a 20 ft skid. Ahh… the speed… the power… the exhilaration.

By age 11, I got a “10 speed.” Less power but I discovered something new… Freedom. As most of you recall, growing up in the 60’s 70’s and maybe even early 80’s, kids were typically allowed to be unsupervised for hours and hours a clip. You knew what time to be home and you knew your “boundaries”. ..but… Long Island was flat and to me it was exciting to go beyond those boundaries… further and further. I was a good kid, but I was mischievous. First it was going into “town” (Rockville Centre, NY) when I wasn’t supposed to and soon after it was the next town over, then Jones Beach and before long it was anywhere I could get to in a few hours including… yes…Manhattan.

“Where were you Michael?, your sisters said they haven’t seen you all afternoon.”

“Awe y’know mom, just playing in the neighborhood” OK, so I really biked 30 miles each way across some of the busiest streets in the country, over bridges, and into a city with 8 million people, had pizza in Greenwich Village, stole a button on Canal Street, saw two boys kiss (WTF!) and only got home a little after dark. Ahh, the freedom… the adrenaline… the exhilaration.

In September, 1983 when I was 14, Jaime Martino let me ride is Honda moped. I will never forget my first ride… the adrenaline rush, the wind in my hair (that I used to have)….ahh the speed… the power…the exhilaration… the freedom!

My favorite was to drive it down a narrow walking path through the woods in a local park because with a max speed of 30mph, the scoot somehow felt much faster! I was hooked, big time. There was no way on the planet, that this Long Island Jew would have EVER been allowed to actually have a moped or a motorcycle so my early years of riding were all on the “down-low”, top secret, covert operations that only added further excitement. I was hooked, hooked big-time.

Within two months, I had somehow talked the Bogart brothers who lived behind me and were probably in their early 20’s to teach me how to ride their Honda Hawk. I remember the first ride like it was yesterday including popping the clutch and the front wheel coming up and my sheer terror. I was probably more scared of getting caught, than hurt but within another month I had worked out a deal where I could use the Honda hawk regularly. By the 11th grade I bought my first bike.

My car was a ‘69 Dodge Dart that I bought for $400 but my top secret bike that was kept at a friends and used rarely was a used Honda Interceptor. Freshman year of college, I was a passenger in a bad car accident and spent the majority of the next three years helping to nurse my high school sweetheart back to health from a severe head injury. I sold everything that I didn’t absolutely need.

When the dust settled from that drama, I began to hear, no feel the calling and since money was tight and I was paying my way through college, I basically bought a bike in the dead of winter every year for a song and sold them in late spring for a profit fulfilling my need to ride as well as supplementing my limited income. One of these bikes included an FJ which I enjoyed tremendously.

After college I took a job in sales, paid off my one and only student loan within three months of graduation and a few months later I found myself in a Kawasaki dealership on a beautiful autumn morning. (By the way, remember my first year of riding the moped and the Hawk? It was in the Fall and I was programmed for life… I love riding motorcycles in the Fall!) After buying used motorcycles all through college and after telling this very sales guy on several occasions that I would never buy new… the following conversation transpired:

“What time could you have this bike ready ?” (pointing to a new ‘94 ZX-11)”We couldn’t have it until tomorrow because we would have to… blah blah blah”

I interrupt

“Here is $1K I will be back in two hours with $8K more. Will it be ready?”

“Yes”

Ah the speed, the power, the freedom, the exhilaration.

I enjoyed that bike tremendously for a couple of years but truth be told between the Zx-11 and all of the other bikes combined I never really rode that many miles all totaled; never really learned much about the sport and although I fed my passion for riding, I was in many ways a young, naïve, bonehead new Yorker caught up in making money and chasing tail. Due to my irresponsibility with following up with tickets, my license ended up suspended and what little riding I was doing was hamstrung by my conditional license and fear of losing all driving privileges. Perhaps it was my time to be a flaky jerk after the very tough period following the aforementioned car accident.

But after three years of working in a cheesy sales job, I walked away from my now six figure plus income, got my license squared away, and planned a new respectable career in… get this… CALIFORNIA. Yes, California where I was born but never lived (another story). Yes California where I can ride all year long. Yes, I’ve got my license back and I’m heading to Cali! Finally I will REALLY get to ride my beloved Z!

The movers dropped the bike off the truck! The damage was extensive and our resolution involved a check and no motorcycle. Perhaps, I took the whole ya’know “growing up” thing or maturing or whatever a little too seriously because somehow, some way 10 years went by with no bike. Now yes, I did build a successful career, with a big “respectable” (whatever that means) company, and oh yeah, got married had um… a baby, oh and another one, learned a lot, and so on and so forth… but NO BIKE!

Now don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of fun along the way… wake boarding, water skiing, snow skiing, golfing, hiking traveling etc. I even started off road motorcycling which I also love and although it scratched the itch, it didn’t fill the void.

In 2005 I spent considerable time focusing on myself and issues such as what I wanted out of life. Among other things, I decided to get a small tattoo with the Kanji symbol for the word “Decision” which in that language has a secondary meaning of determination. The image symbolizes many things and the story behind the word is long but I have summarized much of what it means with the following.

D E C I S I O N

for Myself

Noelle

Jessica and Sara

Family

Friends

to attain

Health

Happiness

Prosperity

Independence

through

Determination

Smart Choices

No Vices

Passion

Patience

Many choices were made during this period geared towards bettering myself and my quality of life. Two notable ones include, choosing to leave corporate America to start my own company (the name of which coincidentally includes the word Decision ) and yes, you guessed it… to get back in the motorcycle saddle again.

The Mrs. (Noelle) said that it wasn’t a good time because of… blah blah blah. I agreed and also pointed out that it wasn’t going to be a good time for about another 18 years (did I mention that we had a newborn?). In short order I had a deposit down on a used 2004 FJR in Monterey. The arrangements were all in order and the bike was to be picked up on a Wednesday. After a decade long hiatus, I was excited to say the least.

The Sunday before the exciting day, Noelle and I found ourselves in stopped traffic miles behind what appeared to be a bad accident as evidenced by the several ambulances that passed as we waited. Wouldn’t you know it, not only was it a motorcycle accident, but it was a pretty brutal one and we had to pass at it at about 1 mph with the carnage just outside my wife’s window.

She was upset. She felt it was a sign… a sign that I wasn’t supposed to get a bike. As the tears dripped from her eyes (did I mention we had a newborn?), I phoned the seller of the FJR and informed him that I would have to walk away from my $500 deposit. I suggested to my wife that if in fact it was a sign, than perhaps it was a sign not to get THAT bike.

Was the decision to get back on the bike a mid-life crisis? As a father, husband provider etc., was I feeling pressure? With responsibility comes some loss of freedom. Of course it’s all a series of conscious choices and compromises but eventually we can become the child. The child that yearns for freedom and excitement… or maybe… maybe I just love to ride motorcycles.

Six months later I bought a new 2006 FJR AE.

Ahh the speed… the power … the freedom…the exhilaration!

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Conversation with Carolina Fowler: 1098 Rider, JAG corp member, wise beyond her years

March 4th, 2008 · No Comments


I met Carolna through a new friend on the FJRForum. She’s younger than the standard “mid-life”profile, but hey, it’s my blog.

Carolina rides a big time bike, but she’s no squid. She gets the bike. She gets what it’s all about. She has a refreshing point of view. I wasn’t nearly that grown up when I was 24.

She also serves at the sharp end of the spear. I have nothing but regard for people who put on the uniform. So for any of those reasons, read and enjoy.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Well, at 24 I’m a youngster, at least as far as most of my friends in the motorcycling community are concerned. I’m a Staff Sergeant in the Texas Army National Guard. While I’m technically trained as both a Paralegal (JAG or 27D) and a Transporter (88N), I’m currently doing miscellaneous admin work on temporary active duty orders. I have a family - married 4 years this April, with two kids - a 2 y/o and a 4 m/o.

When I went to Iraq, I went as a paralegal. I do have quite a few stories to tell. One of the JAG lawyers I knew in Iraq was SPC Charles Graner’s (of Abu Ghraib infamy) military defense counsel. Not to mention you hear all sorts of stories through the JAG grapevine about the crazy things Soldiers do on deployment. Since it doesn’t relate directly to motorcycling, let me know if you’re interested in hearing about them… I could fill a page with those stories alone. *lol*

Military is the current focus of my professional life, mainly because my degree got put on the back burner after being deployed to Iraq in 2004. I do plan on going back some day (I was working on pre-med), but for the time being I’m doing a lot of full-time Army work.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

I first rode a motorcycle at the MSF course I took in 2002.

What kind of bike was it?

A Honda 150, if I remember correctly… but I couldn’t tell you what model. Only that it was an old beater bike - but it got the job done!

What was the first bike you owned?

A Buell Blast. It was originally suggested to me by my brother, who also rides (he has a Ducati 900SS, an old Capriola he’s restoring, and a couple dirt bikes). My parents were both originally totally against it - but after they realized how determined I was to ride (I paid for the MSF and my gear myself), they started to support me in it.

My dad used to ride, but he decided to sell his two bikes (Kawi KZ350 and KZ550.. I think?) because he hated riding in the Austin traffic. In the end, he helped me by paying for half of the Buell. The cool part about it - when I moved on to a different bike, he kept the Blast and started riding again!

How many bikes have you owned?

Four - 2000 Buell Blast, 1993 Honda CBR600F2, 2004 Honda SuperHawk, and 2007 Ducati 1098.

A 1098! Very tasty.  I have a 2007 Aprilia RSV1000 Factory. I didn’t think I was brave enough / mature enough for a 1098.

Well, if you have an RSV1000 Factory, it’s not too much different from the 1098, IMO. If you can ride the Aprilia without getting yourself in trouble/killed, you’ll probably be okay. *lol* I KNOW it’s a lot of bike for me.

But in this day and age of advanced motorcycling technology, it’s hard to find bikes that AREN’T beyond most riders’ ability… so I look at it this way: as long as you ride within YOUR limitations, the bike won’t kill you. Maybe that mentality comes from starting on smaller bikes (so I have a great appreciation for just how much power the Ducati has).. but it hasn’t done me wrong yet.

I do need to get out on a track more though - to really use the bike as it was intended to be.

How many bikes have you ridden?

Oh wow, let’s see if I can remember them all… aside from those I’ve owned, I’ve also ridden a Yamaha R1, Buell Firebolt XB9R, Ducati Monster 900, Honda F4i, Kawasaki ZX-11, Ducati 999, a friend’s SuperHawk, Buell M1, a Yamaha 150 dirt bike… I think that’s it, though. So 9 bikes aside from the ones I’ve owned? In 5 years that’s not a lot, I guess… just what people offered me keys to.

What do you own now?

2007 Ducati 1098

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?
Ugh, not as many as I would like! Probably 5000, if I’m lucky.

Riding gear (street) of choice?

What I usually find myself riding with around town is my Arai helmet, Dainese leather jacket, Dainese gloves, Frank Thomas boots, and a pair of jeans. If I’m going on a real ride, though, I typically opt for full leathers. Though, given the hot summers we often get here in Texas, I’m looking into getting some textile or perforated leather so I don’t cook so much in the heat

Riding gear (track) of choice?

Like on real rides, I opt for full leathers (in addition to everything else).

Riding gear (dirt) of choice?

Since I’ve only ever ridden a dirt bike once, I don’t really have any dirt riding gear.

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now?

Not as much involvement as I would like, or as much as I used to have when I worked in the motorcycle industry (worked very briefly for Ducati Austin, then worked for CycleGear). I mainly live vicariously through others - like my friend Moira who last year started a track day business. I try to make it to bike nights as much as possible, try to do track days when I can, try to go on rides whenever I have a free weekend and the weather is nice… but with two small kids, it’s very hard to find the time to do those things.

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

What originally got me started was a friend of mine that I went to basic training/AIT with in 2001/2002. She was VERY into bikes, and her enthusiasm for the sport intrigued me. So on my flight home after training, I picked up a couple of motorcycle magazines to read on the plane. I don’t know what it was about those magazines, but something just got me.. hook, line, and sinker. Within 3 months, I was licensed, geared, and already had my Buell.

The reason I stuck with it (and still ride to this day) is .. freedom. Freedom from the cages. A getaway from everyday life. There is nothing like the man-machine interface that you experience when you ride a motorcycle. There just isn’t anything like the feeling of being in tune with the bike as you carve sweepers, tight corners, or the exhilaration (and respect) you feel for the power of the beast beneath you. It’s exciting. The only other time I’ve felt like that was horseback riding… in many ways it’s similar, I suppose.

I know you’re married. Did you make some sort of “deal” with your husband about riding?

Luckily, we’re both avid motorcyclists. He’s more into Harleys, though he gets a kick out of riding the Ducati, too!

Does he ride with you?

He LOVES riding with me… And he keeps up pretty well, considering he’s on a cruiser.

What do your kids think about you and your bike?

They’re still too young to ride. Though my oldest likes the bikes… she places her tricycle squarely between our two motorcycles and says, “Mommy’s bike, Daddy’s bike, MY bike!”

This feels like a dopey question, but say some things about how you experience owning and riding a bike as a woman? Do you feel like you’re making a statement? Do people respond to you differently when they find out you ride (or find out the person under the helmet is a woman)?

I don’t really think I’m making a statement by being a female rider… it’s simply something I really enjoy doing.

I always used to say before I got married and had kids that bikes were the love of my life. They are still my little love affair. I have noticed that people are often surprised/shocked to find out I ride motorcycles - especially people who ride themselves. Usually it’s a pleasant surprise - I don’t think I’ve ever received negative reactions from people because I ride. Most people are very surprised about my bike - I guess they don’t expect to see a woman riding a 1098. It probably is too much bike for me. But then, realistically speaking, unless you’re Valentino Rossi, that bike is probably too much for anybody!

What do you think about when you ride?

I guess it depends on where I’m riding.

If I’m commuting, I’m usually thinking about traffic (because drivers are insane!). But I try not to *think* too much when I ride… if I do, I’m too distracted. Unless I’m actively trying to learn a new technique, thinking about it too much actually makes me make mistakes. So I focus mainly on being smooth, not necessarily fast. A good friend always says, “Focus on being smooth first, and the speed will come.” Wise words, in my opinion, and it’s worked for me thus far.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

I think it’s an inherent part of the sport. But I think the danger (provided you’re an alert and safe rider who wears the appropriate gear) is no more than driving a car. I’ve wrecked on my bike before. And I’ve been in car wrecks before. Either one can happen to anyone, even the safest rider/driver. Both can kill you. But I don’t let that deter me from doing what I love.

People have chided me before, telling me, “what about your kids?” Well… I could die walking across the street. Or from cancer. Should I stop enjoying life because I’m always afraid? I don’t believe so… If anything, my kids have taught me this as much as anyone. They fall down and get bumps and bruises.. but you can’t always prevent it - you just have to get back up (or in their case, help them get back up), brush off, and keep going. I’ve found I’m a happier, less stressed person when I get to ride.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

MSF course. One: to find out if it’s really something you like. Two: it will teach you the RIGHT way to ride. That’s my advice to any new rider, young or old. It hasn’t done me wrong yet…

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

Something with smaller displacement (600 or less, generally), depending on the type of bike. And something used, because all new riders will eventually drop their bike at a stoplight or something. Better to not worry so much about scratching the paint and focus on learning riding skills instead.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

Track days, for sure. And riding in Germany. I miss doing both (except for the German weather).

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Probably the Alps. Especially near the German/Austrian border. Garmisch holds a yearly BMW rally that I briefly witnessed on my way through to Italy in 2006. Beemers as far as the eye can see! That, or races. Any race, anywhere, really. I’m a big fan of Laguna Seca.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

Oh, that’s a tough one!! I like so many different kinds of bikes. The 1098 is my dream bike, but if I were to get another bike, it would probably be the Hypermotard or something along those lines. A hooligan bike, if you will. They’re just so much fun.

But I’d probably set aside a little more money from that blank check to cover any trouble I might get into. Other than that.. maybe something to comfortably ride long distances. I would love to do some touring, perhaps in the future when my kids are older.

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