Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Back in the saddle!

After almost two months in the shop, Comet is back up and running.  She looks like she was never in an accident and rode beautifully.  The one difference?  They couldn't get a black tag bracket so they asked if I minded a chrome bracket.  It's a Harley, so Chrome was more than welcome.  And so it was that my first modification was performed!  That first ride home was exhilarating.  Lynda drove me to Battley Cycles to pick up the bike on a Saturday, which meant hotdogs and soda for their weekend.  Summer was gone and we were in the last gasps of autumn.  Which meant that weekend outdoor picnics at the dealership would likely be coming to an end. 

I missed writing all through October.  Why?  I don't know.  I felt spiritually disconnected until I was riding again, and perhaps this affected my writing pace.

One of the things that I've noticed is how hard it is to tune out the surface noise.  I don't mean ambient noise, but the surface noise of the mind.  My mind is constantly thinking, evaluating, speculating, and commenting on what is going on, or on some matter in the past, or perhaps some future event.  A near constant din of inner monologue.  Most of the time, this is okay, but when I am trying to connect to the divine, to the spiritual, I want mental calm and peace.  I need the inner monologue to subside so that I can actually enjoy the silence and meditate.

When I'm on the bike, however, the inner monologue subsides and I have calm.  Mental and spiritual calm.  Time to simply be.  How often do we do that?  Just be.  So often, there is a multitude of things  pulling at us and demanding our immediate attention.  When I ride, those things are gone.  It is just machine, man, and the open road under God's blue heavens and Mother Nature's green earth.  It doesn't get more spiritual than that.

I was back on the bike to enjoy the beautiful colors as the leaves changed and then eventually fell away.  The process is not complete, but there is a lot more space between the branches than not and the usually green scenery around me is a mix of browns and grays.  My rides home are dark, as the days are shorter.  The mystery of the woods is a mystery no longer as I can see at a glance what is normally hidden by the veil of leaves.  With the veil lifted, I can see the many bare trees, the creek beds and in some instances, the homes built way on the other side of the wood.  The skies are magnificent as they always are, but the sun sits a little differently in them during the winter months. 

But it is the change in the seasons that ads another dimension to the spiritual.  It is easy to see why ancient myths arose depicting the annual death of a nature goddess who would be reborn each spring.  But a thoughtful look reveals not death, but the shedding of her summer regalia in order to prepare for the coming year's mantle of greenery.

And with the winter months come the winter celebrations.  Harvest and Yuletide, and the new year.  With the celebrations will come the preparations for celebrating Christmas, with all lights and tinsel.  And of course the occasional snowfall.  The lights and the crisp cool air make for a magical, whimsical time.  The malls and the stores are decorated and a feeling of good will comes to many, who are suddenly moved to a more charitable mood with the joy of the holidays.

Eventually, the holidays will be over and we will be in the dead of winter.  But only for so long, as spring will come crashing through soon enough.  Life will find its way back to the world and color will return to the trees and the ground. 

Ride through it as much as you can.  Take it all in.  Be mindful of it.  Appreciate it while the time is here.  The winter months are a time of reflection and peace.  What better time to ride?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Biker down!!

Last night, the daily ride hit one of those bumps on the road.  I say on the road, because that is where the bump occurred, but not the source of the bump.  That was a Toyota Prius.  On the ride home, I was rear ended by the driver of said Prius.

This is a good example of simple carelessness and probably a habit that more of us have than we would like to admit.  It happened at a three way intersection and I was turning right.  The light was red, and the car ahead of me stopped.  He waited for the traffic to clear and made his right turn.  I moved up and looked to make sure traffic was clear before I made my own turn.  A car was coming doing about fifty, so I waited.  After he cleared, I was about to take off when I felt the impact from behind.  The bike lurched forward and fell down on the right side. 

What happened?  The man behind me did exactly the same thing that I had; he pulled up and checked to see that traffic from the left was clear.  Where our actions differed was that while I looked right again before taking off, he did not.  He assumed that I had already taken off and proceeded into the intersection while still looking left.

In the end, all was well.  The bike sustained damage to the rear fender, lights, and to the pipes, but it was ridable and none of the casings appeared cracked.  I'll be taking the bike into Battley Cycles for a thorough inspection next Tuesday to be certain, but overall the extent of the damage doesn't seem too great.  The Prius had a nice big chunk taken out of the corner.  No injuries, happily, to either myself or the driver.  Two bikers, one trucker, and a lady who witnessed the accident stopped along the way to make sure that everything was alright.

So the lesson?  The driver missed an important step in looking to see if the lane was clear, which was to look back to where he was going before proceeding.  I'd like to say it was unique, but I've seen it done many times over the years.  Take the time and don't hurry through traffic.  Don't rush yourself through intersections.  Take your time, be cautious, and drive or ride safely.  I was okay, but it could have been worse.  A pedestrian would not have fared as well as I did.  School is back in session, so there are more small pedestrians about right now than there were last week.

Ride free and true!  And safely!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Harley Davidson: Please help out! America needs you!

That's right, America needs Harley Davidson!  Not because we're all going to need a bike in the next year or so, and not because Harley is the backbone of US manufacturing.  But because of what Harley Davidson stands for: Made in the USA American pride.  Yankee ingenuity, American industry, and the American worker.

And there's a good reason.  Harley was battered and beaten down by foreign competition in the sixties, seventies, and early eighties and was in danger of going under for good.  The story of their decline and resurgence (they control 57% of the US motorcycle market.  Not just cruisers, not just 1000cc+ bikes, but the entire market) is the stuff of legends.  They kept the candle burning for the American motorcycle industry while literally all of the rest had gone under by the end of the 1950s.  Indian, America's oldest manufacturer by two years was one of the last to go, dying out in 1953 and the name purchased by a succession of foreign and domestic owners and affixed to British, Italian, and Taiwanese bikes, and later to American built limited production bikes so expensive that they had no impact whatsoever on the market.

Harley, on the other hand, weathered it all, and was supported precisely because they were American.  Even during the AMF years when their product was inferior, they were supported because they were American.  When they took the company back from AMF and built new bikes, people gave them the chance because they were American.  People also recommended buyinng your motorclothes there.  Why?  Because they were American.

But somewhere along the line, something changed.  The bikes are still proudly made in Milwaukee, but the huge selection of motorclothes that Harley Davidson sells is made in China.  When our garment industry is in literal tatters, how do you justify this, Harley Davidson?  Remember when you were supported just for being American?  And not just by customers, but also by the federal government? 

Please, Harley Davidson, I ask that you use only USA supliers for your motorclothes and accessories.  Your brand is proof that American industry can not only come back, but it can come back and dominate!  Once you had reorganized, you asked that the government lift the protections that they had extended to you.  That was awesome!  Unprecedented! 

Which brings me back to my original statement.  America needs you.  Your example stands as a beacon of hope to other industries in our great country.  Everyone wants a little something Harley Davidson.  We love your clothes and T-shirts, even when we aren't riders.  We love seeing Arnold on a Fat Boy in T2.  Forget that Yamaha in T1!  We collectively love your bikes and your style.  Your motorclothes are not cheap.  In fact, you tend to be on the pricy side.  If it's made in the USA, it's well worth it.  But when the denim riding vest I bought has a "Made in China" label on the inside and your four hundred dollar jackets have the same, I must tell you that I'll stop after the vest and get my jackets and other garments elsewhere.

So bring it back!  Make your motorclothes in the same country you build your bikes; ours. 

Ride free and true!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Snowball fights are happening right now in hell. Harley has changed the climate with twin cooling.

Three new Harley Davidson models have arrived for 2014 with an extra little gadget in their lowers.  They don't look much different, and without close inspection, it might slip past your notice.  But the change is there, and it's a biggie.  Liquid cooling.  What's that you say?  Liquid cooling?  Nah, that's just on V-Rods, and those aren't "true" Harleys anyway.  Liquid cooling.  That's exactly what I said, and those V-Rods are true Harleys anyway.

There was a time just a few short days ago when it seemed that hell would freeze over before you saw liquid cooling on one of the MoCo's vernable V Twin engines, but that all changed on August 19th.  Hell is undergoing winter.  Of course it was inevitable, in spite of the best efforts to stave such a change off.  Tightening environmental regulations and the need to continually increase engine performance in order to stay ahead of the game demanded it.  And with Victory and a newly resurrected Indian on the scene, Harley Davidson can no longer wave the flag and claim to be the only choice for an American motorcycle.

I find it particularly well timed.  Indian just went to the trouble to introduce a new bike and took out a very ambitious add campaign to let everyone know that "Choice has come to American Motorcycles."  The new Indian is meticulously designed and it's Thuderstroke 111 was styled to look like a modern version of the old Indian L-head (flathead for those of you who unfamiliar with the term 'L-head').  The new bike was rolled out at the Sturgis Motorcycle rally about a week ago.  All this, and then Harley releases new high output twin cam engines and the new "Twin Cooled Twin Cam" engines.  Harley's 'Project Rushmore' included not only liquid cooling, but major ergonomic changes to their 2014 bikes, new braking systems and new lighting systems, along with their new Boom! Box infotainment system for their big touring bikes.  Indian fired a shot across the bow and Harley returned fire with six powerful shots just to let Indian know that the MoCo is very much a moving target with teeth of its own and not some sleeping giant.  And lest anyone think that this is a quick response to increased competition, these changes are reflective of several years of research and development, not an overnight gimmick.

Harley has called the liquid cooling 'precision cooling' in its press release, though when I picked up a 2014 catalog the other day, liquid cooling was specifically mentioned.  Thus far, the reaction from Harley's customer base has been positive, which undoubtedly pleases the MoCo.  The changes appear seamless, not altering the look of the engine or the styling of the bikes, though it is unclear how they will integrate this technology on bikes that don't have engine guards and lowers.  Liquid cooling is specifically for the heads, and specifically the exhaust port, which is the main source of heat buildup.  This will allow for higher compression ratios which will also allow the engine to run cooler.  This will be a huge boon to people who do long distance touring.

The new changes from Project Rushmore should make further inroads into Harley's lineup.  Whether it will be a sweeping change or a trickle down change remains to be seen.  For now, the twin cooled twin cam engine has only debuted on three models, all of them high end, one of them a trike.  The other changes are more sweeping in nature, particularly the new lighting systems.

With the architecture of the current twin cam engines being nearly sixteen years old at this point (the Twin Cam 88 was introduced in 1998), it is very likely that a new engine in around the corner, though what form that new engine will take is a matter of conjecture.  Harley is very conservative, so it will certainly be a 45 degree V Twin with some amount of air cooling.  Whether or not it will be overhead cam, a true twin cam engine (with two cams per cylinder bank rather than a single cam for each cylinder) or a pushrod engine remains to be seen, though given the continued viability of pushrod engines demonstrated by GM, who's pushrod engines are thriving, and Harley's conservative bent, I'd bet on pushrods.

All of these changes are exciting, though I do hope that motorcycles don't go the way that cars have in terms of being able to work on them (you can't).  Only time will tell, of course. 

Ride free and true!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The church of the road

Church, temple, synagogue, mosque, hall, and numerous other words describe our places of worship.  I grew up in a Catholic home in the United States, so for me, the word, "Church," is the one that first comes to mind, so that's the one I'll use.

The word itself comes from the Greek Kyriakós oíkos, meaning house of the Lord.  It eventually became Church as it migrated into Germanic languages, Old English and then into modern English.  It is the most common place to go and worship on Sunday for the majority of Christians in the west.  Typically, such buildings are seen in the light of being holy ground or exceptionally sacred in some way.  Clergy, regardless of the denomination, are usually specialized clerical professionals.  Meaning that their sole 'job' is being a priest or pastor.  People gather and listen to what the priest, pastor or guest speaker has to say and often there is an expectation of donating money and some element of commemoration of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.  Some of these commemorations involve rituals that invoke the real presence of Christ (which brings about a spiritual transformation of the common elements of bread and wine) while many are simple commemoration with no deeper meaning.  During the course of the service, the speaker, whatever title the hold, tells the congregation how to live their lives, how to apply the scripture to their lives, or will expound on some passage and reflect on its impact in our lives.  At the end, the vast majority of attendees go their separate ways and are no different for having been to church than they were the night before.  For many, the act of attendance is a social/familial obligation.  The clergy will tell you that you are mandated to attend, citing some scripture or another, and will follow that up by telling you that you are obligated to tithe or donate money in the amount of some minimum percentage of your income.  The spiritual penalties for ignoring such obligations vary from one denomination to another.

While I do attend church on Sunday mornings, there is another church that I attend daily.  That church is the church of the road.  What kind of church is this, you ask?  Let me tell you about it.

It is a true "house" of God, for God is not contained in one building but is everywhere one may go.  God's presence is felt every minute of every day, but His majesty is seen most powerfully in the skies above, both in the daylight and under the starlit skies.  No cleric need be concerned with performing a ritual to invoke His presence; He is simply there.  Our Heavenly Father, who's spirit infuses all things and surrounds all things, binding them together and connecting them. 

The very ground we ride on is itself holy, for it is itself divine.  The Catholic Church likes to call itself, "Mother Church."  But no organization (led by a bunch of old men, no less) can truly be our mother.  Mother Earth is the physical structure of this church, domed by the sky above.  She bears us up as we ride along, she takes us high enough to touch the sky itself and takes us deep and low where we can contemplate her mysteries.  She is our mother church, and she is ever guiding us and teaching us.  She nourishes us as a human organization can only dream of nourishing.  She is the Mother Church.

The Bible states that Jesus is our high priest, and being unlimited by space and time, the 'priest' is always celebrating His glorious mass.  His sermons change from day to day, and His lessons are most often subtle, requiring us to actively engage in the celebration to understand them.  It is in loving and caring for one another that we most intimately encounter Him, and our time on the road challenges us to do this in new ways each and every day. 

People gather in the Church of the Road.  Everyday.  And just like regular church, the vast majority are there out of some obligation imposed upon them by something outside of the spiritual.  Just as in regular church, many people form their cliques and wall themselves off from others, only interacting with their fellow churchgoers as necessary.  Just like in regular church, many people miss the celebration that is inherent in attending.

The Church of the Road asks no tithe of its members.  It imposes no obligation on you to attend.  Jesus needs no salary, so He's a fairly undemanding high priest.  Because our Heavenly Father needs no money, He has no doctrine of exclusivity.  Everything comes from Him anyway, so requiring people to follow in one doctrine or another is pointless to Him.  He asks only that His children are kind to one another and to His bride, the Mother Church, which is the very earth herself.  Jesus as priest shows us the way to love and to care for others, acts of kindness and love of others being the only sacrifices He asks.

Every time you go out on the road, you are in church.  The Church of the Road has no set schedule; you get the sermon of the moment each time you attend.  Sometimes, the sermons are uplifting and joyous, as we ride beneath the sun, the moon, and the stars under the clear skies.  Other times, the sermons are hard lessons, bringing us challenges to our patience in the form of inclement weather and other motorists who drift into our path.

Each service is unique.  Each service speaks to us in a new and unique way.  Just as going to church with a focus on social convention and fashion can distract you from why you're actually there, so too can driving encased in the shell of your car.  Just as a person in a fancy suit can still fully participate in the celebration, however, drivers of cars can too.  But the Church of the Road is best experienced in a 'come as you are' fashion, on two wheels, be they motorized or no, or on foot.  Convertibles, T-Tops, and targa roof cars are a very happy medium.

So come to church!  If we meet, I will extend to you a warm greeting and will be happy to share in the celebration with you.  I hope that you will return the courtesy!

Ride free and true!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Shock preload

It's day 123 and last night, I made my first suspension adjustment: the rear shock preload.  And what a world of difference it makes!

So what is preload?  On most motorcycles, the shocks are adjustable.  On a Harley, there are five adjustments.  They come from the factory set at 1.  All Harleys are set up to be optimal for the average rider, which in their view, is a male between 5'8" and six feet weighing about 180 pounds.  A heavier rider or a bike that is carrying both a rider and a passenger can use up much of the suspension travel in a motorcycle's rear suspension, which on most cruisers, isn't all that great to begin with.

Enter preload.  You can adjust the suspension to raise the base of the springs, thus slightly raising the ride height.  That way, when a heavier rider sits down, the shocks don't use up all of their travel and bottom out.  Some big touring bikes have air adjustable suspensions to achieve the same effect, as one sees on some Cadillacs and Lincolns, and such suspensions allow a much greater range of adjustment than the mechanical adjustors in most motorcycle shocks.

Well, I'm 6'4" and weigh 218 pounds.  Throw on two saddle bags, one loaded with rain gear, a tool kit, a helmet and riding gear, and my bike is probably carrying something close to 230 pounds.  Needless to say, I'm not the average rider.  So I followed the owners manual and set it up from 1 to 2.  Settings 2 and 3 are recommended for heavier solo riders and 3 to 5 are recommended for riding with a passenger.  I opted to set mine for 2.

After setting it, I took the bike out in the neighborhood.  Speed bumps had less bite, but it was this morning on my ride in that I really noticed the difference.  The ride is now firm, but still compliant.  The bike's handling is more crisp and precise, and bumps that were jarring now barely register. 

So my next 142 hours should be more comfortable!  And all without buying new shocks or taking the bike into the shop!

Ride free and true!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Four full months of riding!

So here it is, day 122, which also marks four full months of riding and 140 hours in the saddle.  In that time, I've put almost three thousand miles on the bike, which means that it's about time for my first oil change.  I've already made my first real repairs; a voltage regulator and plugging the rear tire, and I've had a million ideas of what I'd like to do with the bike in terms of customization.

Regarding customization, I keep coming back to the same answer: engine guards, a rear luggage rack and maybe a tail bag to carry a helmet or kendo equipment.  And perhaps a taller backrest.  Aside from that, I have decided to keep Comet stock.  I learned my lesson years ago with cars: modified vehicles rarely have the reliability of those you just leave alone, and often, the performance and styling benefits are much less than originally envisioned.  Or the appeal wears off very quickly.

With so few Harleys left stock, that in itself sets mine apart.

Ride free and true!

Friday, August 16, 2013

So Indian is back!

After much build up, from carefully released information, the reveal of the new Thunderstroke 111 engine, the Spirit of Munroe and an ad campaign that proclaims that choice has finally arrived, Indian is here.  The new Indian, that is, which is why I say 'is here' rather than 'is back.'  There is a fair amount of significance to this, though likely not as much as Polaris is hoping for.  For starters, Polaris' own Victory motorcycles have been offering choice for a few years now, and until they were bought and eventually disolved by Harley, Buell also was an alternative bike to Harley.  Not to mention the ready availability of imported bikes, some of which are actually built in the US.  So actually, US motorcycle customers have had plenty of choice for a long time.

For those who don't know, Indian, which proclaims "Since 1901" in their ads, is one of America's oldest motorcycle marques.  Older by two years than Harley Davidson, which has been operating continually since 1903.  Indian was at one time the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the US, and likely the world.  They were also a premium bike, a cut above Harley at the time.  Indian and Harley had a Ford/Chevy rivalry.  Indian motorcycles were considered to be beautiful machines, with skirted fenders and elegant lines.  Like Harley Davidson, they contributed bikes to the war effort in both world wars and designed bikes to the US military specifications.  And like Harley, their bikes ultimately took a back seat to the Jeep in terms of US military use.  In spite of Indian's reputation, they were overtaken by Harley, changed owners, and then went under in 1953.  In car terms, it would be as though Ford had gone under.  In terms of the industry, it was that significant.

Following their demise, the company, or at least the name, was purchased by Brockhouse Engineering, who used it to import rebadged Royal Enfield motorcycles from England.  In 1960, they were bought by AMC (Associated Motor Cycles, an English company) who intended to sell Matchless and AJS motorcycles badged as Indians.  They went under in 1962.  In 1963, Floyd Clymer acquired the name and used to import Italian, and later Taiwanese, motorcycles under the Indian name until 1977, when their Indian company went bankrupt.

Since then, the Indian name has changed hands numerous times, with not every owner actually producing bikes.  1998 saw an attempt by Eller Industries to not only restart the company, but to build the bike on tribal land, but legal issues prevented it from getting beyond the planning stages.  In 1999, the Indian Motorcycle Company of America was formed by the name's new owners and bikes were built in Gilroy, California, powered by S&S engines.  This venture went until 2003, when the new company went backrupt. 

In 2006, a London based equity firm acquired the name and the restarted Indian was headquarted in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.  The Kings Mountain Indian was built until this year, with the company being acquired by Polaris in 2011.  These bikes were lofty in price, starting in the high twenties and going up to almost forty thousand dollars. 

This year, after selling Kings Mountain Indians for three years, Polaris unveiled their new Indian bikes.  Priced in the high teens, the bikes are right in line with Harley's Road King and Street Glide bikes.  The new engine was unveiled first and I must say that it is a stunning jewel of a powerplant.  A work of art in chrome and steel.  The bike was unveiled at Sturgis and in my opinion, it is a gorgeous bike that is immediately recognizable as an Indian.  My own opinion is that the bike is a home run.  If you want to look at the new bike to judge for yourself, here is Indian's home page: http://www.indianmotorcycle.com/en-us/home

This new Indian is the best chance that Indian has had for a revival since 1953.  Until Polaris introduced Victory in 1998, American motorcycles meant Harley Davidson.  Victory bikes are nice bikes and offer a very viable alternative to Harley, but they have only managed to grab 5% of the market that Harley dominates: middle to heavyweight 1400cc + cruisers.  Harley, by comparison has 59% of the 650cc and higher cruiser market and over seventy five percent of the 1400cc + market, with the remaining 25% divided between BMW, Ducati, Triumph, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, and Suzuki.  And now, Indian, which is owned by the same company that owns Victory.  Just to put into perspective, Victory is actually #2 in the 1400cc + market.

So does Indian have what it takes to actually offer Harley some meaningful competition?  Hard to say.  Having instant name recognition counts for a lot.  So does having a loyal fanbase that has waited for this bike for rougly sixty years.  They've got the right machine with the right engine and they're backed by a company that understands the industry and has deep financial pockets.  Only time will tell if they actually can succeed in taking more than a sliver of the market, but if nothing else, they've produced a gorgeous bike.

I haven't personally ridden the new Indian, but what I have heard has been largely positive.  I would love to see Indian succeed.  Their success will strengthen the American motorcycle industry and with worthy domestic competition, will hopefully make Harley an even better bike.  Harley has been virtually frozen in time with regards to their styling and riding flavor.  They do what they do very, very, very well.  But imagine if Chevrolet were only building evolved versions of their late sixties cars, with the same suspension designs, same styling, and same feel, all powered by their modern V8 engines?  Would it be a good car?  Undoubtedly.  But it would also represent stagnation of the brand.  I think it's great that Harley still makes old school bikes, but a bit more modernity in their line up would be a very good thing.  Hopefully, if Indian succeeds, they won't get caught in the same time warp.

I've rambled enough.  Ride free and true!

Friday, August 9, 2013

If you don't enjoy it, don't do it!

Sorry for the long period between posts!  After a great ride to Lynda's for dinner on Sunday, I was called by my family, informing me that my older son, Patrick, had fallen while climbing a tree and had broken his ankle.  I rode an hour to the hospital and for most of the week, riding was sporadic.  He's doing well and recovering, though it turned out to be his talus bone, not his ankle, which necesitated five pins, a splint, and three months of no weight on his right foot.  Which means no driving for him.

Riding an hour to the hospital to get to your child is not in itself a fun experience.  When you are going to the hospital for an unexpected emergency, you generally go with some level of anxiety.  Is he/she okay?  Could anything have been done differently to prevent this?  What is going to happen from here?

But as Jesus had said, when has worrying about anything ever added one good thing to your life?  So I rode, putting my son into the hands of the Heavenly Father.  And the ride was enjoyable.  It allowed me a period of meditative Zen before having to deal with doctors and nurses and worried family members. 

Which brings me to the point of this post: I can ride my Harley like most people drive their car if I wish: get on and go, only thinking of my destination, the work ahead of me, and using a bluetooth device to either talk on the phone or listen to music.  However, while I do listen to music and sometimes use the phone with a hands free device when I drive, I also enjoy my drive just as I enjoy my ride.  A large percentate of motorists, however, do not enjoy their drive.  It is a chore, an arduous experience to get through at the beginning and end of each workday.  Tensions rise, tempers flare, and people end up at their destination more stressed out than if they had simply called a cab.

So the bottom line is, if you hate it that much, why do you do it?  Call a cab, take the bus, ride the train.  If all of those people who view cars as appliances and driving as a chore would do this, our roads would be less congested and less stressful.  People would be happier and we'd reduce fuel consumption.  Prices at the pump might go down too; they tend to do that when demand drops.

So ride free and true, my friends!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why do we ride? It's the freedom stupid!

Why do I ride?  Everyone who rides has their own reasons, and while many are different, probably more overlap.  The biggest reason that I see is freedom. 

So how are we on two wheels more "free" than those who choose four?  After all, we don't live in some parallel dimension US of A where motorcyclists have a more liberating bill of rights and I would probably be more hesitant to take my Harley off road than I would be my Cobalt, and I woundn't take that any further off road than my driveway or maybe a lawn parking lot.  While our bikes get much better fuel economy, limited tank size means that on any larger motorcycle, driving range is roughly equivalent to a compact car, maybe less (of course our fill up with premium is under fifteen dollars while a Corolla will cost over forty to fill), so I cannot just go further any my four wheeled counterparts.

My initial reason for riding was a combination of fuel economy and a desire to simplify my life.  Riding is simpler, the bike something that I can work on, and riding bicycles has always been a source of enjoyment for me.  But after I began riding, I found that being on the bike rather than in the car was very freeing.  It's hard to explain, but take the enjoyment of a convertable and multiply it by a thousand and you'll have an idea.

I love driving.  I enjoy the unity of man and machine that can be had in an automobile, particularly one with a standard shift transmission (tiptronics and paddles do not count).  A motorcycle combines that with an open air experience that simply cannot be had in a car, no matter how open the roof might be.  You steer the car into a turn, but on a bike, you and the bike lean into the turn.  If you saw Ironman, you might recall when Tony Stark walks into the lecture with Colonel Rhoads and the pilots and says, "What about a pilot without the plane?"  That is what riding is like as compared to driving.

So here I am on my 107th day of riding.  I've logged 121 hours and 2,250 miles on Comet, and though I am still very much a novice, it feels as though I have been doing this all my life. 

Rock hard & ride free!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Reflections on the divine presence in creation from the saddle of a Harley Davidson

Sunday marked my 102nd day of riding.  My last entry about angels with wheels pertained to a very prominent part of my Saturday ride, but was by no means the entirety of the experience.  The weekend brought me to 118 hours and though I would have like to have ridden more than I did, I am very thankful for the time I did have.

Saturday was a gorgeous day.  My ride out 108 is always very special.  I have driven that road countless times over the past thirty years and I never saw it, as when I am driving, it tends to be all about the car.  I saw a meme that opined that driving is like watching a movie of the world on a screen while riding puts you in into the middle of the action.  In alternating between the car and the bike, I have found this to be very, very true. 

Almost as soon as I am on Rt. 108, I leave housing developments behind and am surounded by woodland.  Though I know that there are houses about a quarter to a half mile away on the other side of the trees, I am for that time, surounded by trees on both sides with no sign of development.  It doesn't last too long, as the north side of the road opens up into a soccor field within a half mile and the south side opens up to a new housing development after a mile.  This part of the road puts me into the right frame of mind to appreciate the rest of the ride.  It is always nice and cool in that little stretch, having a calming effect.  While I don't subscribe to fairies in the sense that some do, the woodland definitely has a spirit that is distinctly feminine.

The trees eventually give way to hills and pastureland, and as I crested the hill by the nursery and beheld the sky, I again had that sense of the Heavenly Father looking down on creation.  It wasn't as dramatic as it was a few weeks ago, but it was just as real.  There was no message of any sort, no sense of a particular feeling or attitude.  It was like being in the room with a loved one just listening to music or riding in the car with a loved one just enjoying the time together.  No exchange of words, no articulate communication of any kind.  Just the pure enjoyment of their presence. 

I have made the observation that the sky is not above us.  It is all around us.  The atmosphere doesn't exist above the earth; it surrounds it and touches it, enfolding it and protecting it.  Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and he is correct.  We touch it and move through it for the duration of our lives.  The Earth is often personified as a mother, and this makes sense; we are all born of the Earth.  The Earthmother, Mother Nature, and any other names we give to her are all meant to communicate the feminine and motherly role that she plays in creation.  The Heavenly Father surrounds her, protects her, and in turn nourishes her with rain and sunlight.  It is the perfect illustration of the unity of masculine and feminine principles, synergy and harmony.

Sunday, I rode to church.  The day was a bit overcast but the cloud formations were dramatic and beautiful.  It sprinkled a bit on the ride home, but the sky in the east was amazing.  But it was the time at church that I wanted to touch on.  Church is a place that I have always been comfortable in and the church I attend has a loving and welcoming atmosphere.  The presence of Jesus and of the Father is palpable and real.  It isn't because it was concecrated by a bishop or because of the tabernacle with the hosts.  It isn't even because it is church.  It is the divine spark that each member brings, the leaving behind of worldly concerns to come together to acknowledge that there is indeed a divine presence and that we are all a part of that presence.

Those of you who know me know that I have a strong belief in Jesus.  His presence is always with me on my rides, leading the ride and simply being there as a companion.  No words.  No gestures, no dramatic signs or wonders.  For years, I yearned for dramatic signs and wonders, but I realized that it wasn't the signs and wonders that I really wanted, but simply His presence.  And I have had it all my life.  Signs and wonders can make you blind to divine love.  Divine love doesn't distract.  It doesn't blind you.  It illuminates your spirit and opens your heart to love others and to see the divinity in others and in the world around you.

As my weekend concluded, I considered that when I am out in creation on the bike, it is every bit as spiritual and holy as being in church.  In a very real sense, it is my church.  Lessons are taught without words, directly from divine parents.  Going to "church" be it a Christian church, a synogogue, mosque, temple, pagan gathering, or any place where people gather to worship (even if it doesn't involve a brick and mortar building) is about connecting with the divine spark in others and then together, connecting with the divine.  In that time together, the congregation is truly connected with the entire world and all life in it.  It isn't just about the local spiritual community, though that element is certainly present.  It is for a brief time, communion with the divine and with collective humanity. 

And so a new week begins.  I wish you all grace, peace, and many blessings.

Rock hard & ride free!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Angels with wheels

Today is day 101 for me.  If you've been following my blog, you know that I have been wrestling (not very hard) with a charging system issue.  I wheeled the bike out and put the bags back on and decided that if it started strongly, I'd go over and see whatever event Battley had going on and if not, I would simply take a nice ride without any stops. 

I turned the key, switched it to run, and pressed start.  The starter had that hesitant sound that tells me that if I get another start out of the battery, I'm darned lucky.  Just a ride, no stops.  Not the best of plans, but that was as much planning as I did.  I set out west on Rt. 108, planning to take it to 650, then go east to Georgia Avenue then south back into town.  The ride was beautiful.  The sky had that wonderful glow that you get from the sun backlighting the clouds and I could feel the presence of the Heavenly Father smiling down on creation. 

When I got to about midway between 108 and Georgia, I noticed that the bike was handling funny.  A bit wobbly, as if a wheel were loose.  I knew that that wasn't likely, but there was definitely a problem.  I slowed and when I got to Georgia, I pulled into the old gas station/store.  I checked the back tire and found that it was soft.  Very soft.   The gas station portion of the store has been closed for years and no air was available, leaving me in a position where it was either limp or leave the bike.  I chose the former and began limping it down Georgia at about twenty to twenty five miles an hour.

I would pull off in driveway or intersection aprons to let traffic by, as the speed limit is fifty.  On one of these stops, two bikers pulled up with me, a lady and a gent.  She was riding a Harley Davidson Sportster and he a Yamaha V-Star.  She asked what the problem was and I explained the situation and what I was trying to do.  She said that they didn't live far and if worse came to worse, she had a trailer.  They offered to follow me to the BP, where the air is free.  I gladly accepted.

She rode ahead and he behind, as she would signal if it were clear ahead and he could direct faster traffic to pass us.  Riding the bike on a soft tire was challenging.  Turning meant slowing a lot and turning by turning the wheel rather than leaning the bike.  The most challenging part was the sharp uphill curve and 90 degree turn in Brookville.  The rest of it was a straight shot.  They stayed with me up to the 108 and Georgia intersection, where the BP is, at which point we parted ways and they went east on 108.

The end result was that I got into BP, filled the tire and got home before it went flat.  When I got into my driveway, I listened for the escaping air and found the hole.  It was a 1/4" diagonal cut in the center of the tread.  I called Connor, my younger son, and got out my tire repair kit and gave him a lesson on tire repair.  I used a bicycle pump to refill the tire and checked it with soapy water.  No bubbles.  The leak was fixed. 

The lesson?  Angels are not always spirits, but are also people, like you and I.  Any of us can be an angel to anyone else.  These two angels helped me to get to my destination safely and gave me the reassurance that if I couldn't make it, I wouldn't have had to leave Comet.  These two made my day.  What could have been a major pain became an opportunity to encounter two very wonderful people.  A lot of groups like to talk about brother/sisterhood and community, but most of the time it's just talk.  But when it comes to bikers, it is the real deal.  The brother/sisterhood of bikers is real.  It goes beyond waving and a shared aversion to being hit by cars.  Bikers really are there for one another.  And have a reputation for being there for motorists as well.

Not all angels have wings. Some have wheels.  So to whomever it is that helped me today, you are both angels!  Blessings be upon you and may your rides be ever safe!  You have my thanks!  And more importantly, my own pledge to 'pay it forward' to whomever I should encounter in need.

Rock hard & ride free!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 100 of my own daily ride.

Day 100.  In spite of the recent electrical issues, I did manage to ride today.  I felt it very important to ride on my 100th day.  I was very pleased this morning to find that the bike fired up willingly and quickly settled into a relaxed 'potato-potato' idle.  Riding in was a pleasure with the cooler weather and beautiful skies.  The sun shone in the east and the moon in the west.  The beauty of the earth was all around, life evident in the green of the trees and grass. 

My one hundredth day will bring me to 115 hours of riding.  A year ago, just getting the bike was a nebulous, 'it will happen within a year' commitment.  In April, it became a reality.  Now riding is as much a part of me as being a dad, driving, kendo & fencing, taekwondo & hapkio, and many other parts of my life.

In a way, it takes me back to when I cycled literally everwhere and literally everyday.  But it isn't a going back, so much as it is a bringing forward something good, some part of me that was special and had been left behind, to the present.

I remember when I used to love hanging out at the bitcyle shop, always checking out the new bicycles and the new parts that would come in, strategizing the changes that I would make on my own bike.  I would go everyday to the Bicycle Place on University Boulevard (Dorsey and his crew were much more personable than the Schwinn shop across the street) and on the weekends, I would visit Georgetown Cycle Sport, which later became Olney Cycle Sport.  That was a special and magical time, one that I had thought gone.  But here it is again, back and just as special as it had been, though now, instead of the bicycle shops, it is the motorcycle shops.  I don't visit daily, as I simply do not have the time, but I do visit weekly and ride daily once again.  I still bicycle and still love the bicycle shops, but I also now have the wonder of the motorcycle shops, which combines the unique experience of engines and car parts with the charm of bicycles and riding. 
Everyday, I find myself thinking of what I want to do with the motorcycle and plotting out how I will do it.  As with bicycles, the project may go in directions that I hadn't orginaly planned but which present themselves as things unfold.

Also, I have a convention of naming my vehicles.  I christened the motorcycle, "Commet" like the reindeer from The Night Before Christmas.  Commet is proving to be a lot of fun.  I am very much looking forward to the next hundred days!
Rock hard & ride free!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Freedom isn't (maintenance) free!

To a motorcyclist, riding is synonomous with freedom.  And it is probably the same for those who ride horseback.  It is also the case with bicyclists, though it isn't as effortless and commuting on a bicycle is more risky in most populated areas due to lack of well laid out bicycle routes.

For the first time since I purchased my motorcycle in April of this year, my freedom to ride was impacted by an issue with the bike.  Given that the bike is nearly two decades old, this isn't as shocking as it may seem.  But if I wanted that freedom back, I would have to either fix the problems myself or pay to have them fixed.  It was a tight month monetarilly, so I couldn't just rush in and get the bike serviced. Since I have a car, it wasn't an emergency, so I chose to make figuring this out part of 'my daily ride,' as maintaining the motorcycle is as much a part of riding as the act of riding itself.

After my battery wasn't charging on July seventh, my daily ride experienced its first hiccup.  I did buy a battery only to find that by the eleventh, the problem was not only recurring, but my taillamp was also out.  This precipitated an interruption to my daily ride, as I chased out the problems.

It has been a long time since I have had to do vehicle maintenance beyond oil and filter changes, so part of the process was clearing off my tool cart and going through my tool box and taking accounting of what tools I presently have and what tools I need.  Firstly, I had to buy a multimeter, as my old meter was long gone.  I still had a test light, however, and a fairly complete set of metric and standard sockets and allen wrenches, and I still had a full set of vicegrips, screwdrivers, adustable wrenches, and various pliers and wire cutters.  I even still had my fancy wire stripper that I purchased from Radio Shack about twenty years ago.  Last month, I had also purchased the shock preload adjustment tool.  I was off to a good start.

The initial replacement of the battery was easy, much easier than on a car.  Housed in the compartment with the battery is the wiring harness for the tail light, signals and brake light.  I was able to determine that power was going into the harness.  I went to the taillamp itself and found that power was going into it, but the bulb was still not lighting.  With my test lamp, I was able to determine that there was a grounding issue inside of the socket.  The socket was, unfortunately, pressed into the lamp assembly and was not replaceable.  This brought me to the next part of the adventure with the tail lamp.

Battley said that they could order one, and did.  The part was about seventy five dollars.  Not surprising on an OE lamp assembly.  However, I got a call the following day that the part was obsolete and the Motor Company no longer manufactures it.  With a near twenty year old bike, this was again, not surprising.  They did locate one at another dealer, but it didn't arrive until Tuesday the following week. 

While waiting for the part, it was time to get my work area into working order.  I cleaned the windows, evicting the spiders.  I took the old AM/FM/SW radio that I haven't run for years and plugged it in.  It worked very nicely.  With that and accounting of my tools done, I organized my tool box and car, threw away the junk and relocated the various non-tool items that had accumulated on it in the years since I worked in automotive service.  By the time I was done, I had a clean and organized work area.  Now to buy that meter.

Meters at Radio Shack really haven't changed much since I worked there.  I left there, in fact, the same year my bike was built.  Freedom from Radio Shack coinciding with the year my motorcycle, which would afford me a level of freedom not experienced in a car, was built.  Symbolic.  In any event, I opted for an analog meter, as the only meters that ever broke when I worked there were the digital ones.

With the meter purchased, I set to testing the charging system, which was putting out only 12.5 volts.  I got optimistic that it was putting out about fifteen, but then realized that I was reading the wrong range on the scale.  The light finally came in and I was able to install it without issue.  My old Snap On soldering iron held its butane and fired up after a decade of disuse.  Over the years, I'd accumulated several duplicates of box wrenches so I took the standard ones along with a ratchet and a standard socket set and put them into my tool pouch.

Last night, I was finally able to take the bike out and ride for about an hour.  It was a wonderful feeling to be free again.  But just like our national freedom, freedom to ride must be maintained and sometimes repaired.   Having the skills to do this makes the task easier and less expensive, but more importantly, it affords you freedom from being dependent upon the garage to keep your bike running.

Rock hard and ride free!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The day I was touched by God

I debated on whether or not to share this when this blog was merely Facebook statuses copied to a note.  It was a brief but profound experience that I initially felt was one that I should keep to myself.  It wasn't a 'this is so crazy that I had better not tell anyone' experience, but a special one that I initially wanted to guard and keep just for myself.  I debated whether to share or not to share and ultimately came to the conclusion that if I'm blogging about such things and don't share a moment like this then I am simply being selfish.

It was a Saturday, June 29th 2013, and I was riding to Battley Cycles to pick up a seat strap for my '96 Super Glide.  The weather was as perfect as it could be and I was riding out Route 108 in the early afternoon.  I ride 108 everyday as part of my ride to work, which takes me from 108 to Mucaster/Redland Road out to Research Boulevard, with a brief time on two connecting streets.  I've found that my ride has places that are very special along the way, most of which are on 108 and Redland prior to Redland opening up into a two lane each way road and the woods and pasture giving way to commercial buildings and concrete.  I savor each part of this ride, making my daily ride to work much more than simple commuting.  One of the greatest parts of appreciating the creation around me is the element of being fully open.  I can see the sky, unbordered by the sheetmetal around the windshield, undivided by A-pillars, and unobstructed by the tint of the glass.  I wear goggles, but they do not filter and mute the scenery the way vehicle glass does.

All of that brings me to that Saturday in June.  I was riding on 108, going past the soccor fields on my right and a tall stretch of woodland to my left which has been there since before I moved to Olney in 1969.  The soccor fields end and more wooded area comes up on the right with a corn field-turned-housing development on the right.  As I rode through this coridor and ascended the hill, I was struck with a view of the sky like none I had ever seen.  The clouds had a golden, almost bronzy glow about them that had not been there when I had set out and the blue of the sky had become even more rich and vivid than it had already been.  A powerful presence came over me.  There were no words; spirits do not communicate that way.  But I knew the message immediately: "I am here and you are loved."  The presence lasted the entire ride, though not as intensly as in that brief moment. 

I have had experiences that affirmed the existence of our Heavenly Father, and I have had experiences where I have encountered Jesus, but none quite like this.  The most amazing thing about it was that there was no condemnation, judgement, or sense of worthlessness in the face of the Father.  I have always wondered about accounts, both Biblical and extra-Biblical that portray men and women as feeling lowly and worthless in the presence of God.  A loving father should never prompt such feelings in his children.  The sense of magnitude and majesty of the Father was inescapable, but rather than looking up at God like a lowly worm, I was caught up in His love and grace, bouyed as though on wings instead of wheels.  I have been on airplanes, in a hot air balloon, driven convertible cars and stood high above the earth on the Empire State Building and the Space Needle.  This experience was like flying without the aircraft, standing high without the building.

It was one of those amazing moments, perhaps once in a lifetime moments, that you read about but never expect to happen to you, no matter how hard you may wish for it.  You also read about how sometimes, after having the experience, people are never the same and feel a sadness that they had to go back to normality.  But this was the ever-satisfying presence, the wellspring that wells up inside of you and satisfies your spirit, leaving you to go back to normality with a satisfaction that cannot be met by any worldly source.

We go through life asking for and looking for signs. A sign that a divine entity exists, a sign that this entity cares about us and is watching over us.  As I said earlier, I have had other experiences that were not this intense or profound, but which were equally real.  We have these experiences everyday.  But we live our lives in such a busy way that we miss them and miss the lessons that they are meant to teach us.

So get out of your spiritual cage and onto your spiritual bike (pick a model, it doesn't matter which one) and ride through your life with the appreciation of the world around you.  No matter where that world is, no matter what that world is.  Find the beauty.  I hear about people who want to get away from their local area to see a really beautiful place.  The sky I see everyday and the beauty of Mother Earth beneath it is as gorgeous here as it is anywhere.  Every place is special.  But sometimes, you have to look for it.  When you find it, you'll appreciate it even more.

Rock Hard & Ride Free!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My daily ride: The first one hundred days.

Welcome to the Daily Ride!  This started out as daily statuses on Facebook and then I made it into a note on Facebook.  Well, I ran out of space on the note and my musings were starting to go beyond daily statuses.  I have preserved the first three month’s worth of entries for those of you interested in seeing them.

I began recording my thoughts and impressions after I purchased my motorcycle in April of 2013, but the journey began almost two years before then.  Or maybe it began decades ago and was placed on hold.  Either way, in July of 2011, it began.
Every year, I go to Otakon with my kids.  It is a large anime convention and convention-goers dress in colorful costumes from their favorite shows or movies.  The dealer room has lots of anime and anime related products, and some of the video retailers have grab bags.  In the grab back I got was a season one set of the anime, ‘Ah, My Goddess.’  The anime is a comedy and was fun to watch with my kids, but it is in watching this anime that the dream of motorcycling took hold.  The main character, Keiichi Morisato rides a BMW motorcycle with a sidecar.  As I watched the video, I realized that a motorcycle would be well suited to the majority of my travels.  The sidecar was particularly appealing, but for the most part, not needed. 
From this day, I began my research into the practicality of motorcycling.  I started off looking at a Suzuki Boulevard S40.  My search expanded to the Harley Davidson Sportster 883 and the Honda Shadow 750.  I was trying to stay under a litre.  I voraciously read motorcycle reviews and began buying magazines to read up on the various bikes.  I was relatively unfamiliar with motorcycles, but I was very familiar with cars and their specs, having worked in automotive parts and service for years and having been a regular reader of Car & Driver and Motor Trend.  I knew the kind of information that I was after and it didn’t take me long to find it. 
After much reading and research, I took the next step and obtained a Motorcycle learners permit in September.  I began visiting dealerships and actually sitting on the bikes and questioning the salesmen.  It surprised me at how few dealerships remained in Montgomery County, as remembered at least seven in the area that had been around for years but were now gone.  Cycles USA, which had been on Georgia Avenue ever since I was a child was gone.  Wheaton Yamaha, where I had looked at a Virago when I was eighteen, was gone.  There were others that I remembered, all of which had simply vanished.  But one that hadn’t vanished was Rockville Harley Davidson, though they had moved to the Airpark and changed their name to Battley Cycles.  They were also a Yamaha, BMW, and Ducati dealer.  Of all of the dealerships that I visited, they were absolutely, far and away the most helpful and the most welcoming.  They were also the least pushy. 
Around this time, I also began dating a lady with whom I had been friends for several years.  Her name was Carina, and she was a motorcyclist, though at the time, she was between bikes.  I ran a lot of bike choices by her and asked her a lot of questions, which she very patiently answered.  Most importantly, though, she was incredibly supportive of my decision to ride.  Though we no longer are dating, we have remained friends and she continued to be encouraging and supportive.  I ultimately have her to thank, as I’m not sure I would have followed through without her encouragement.  I had other good friends who were also very supportive as well and who frequently would engage me in conversation about how my search was going.  By April of 2012, I took the Harley Davidson Rider’s Edge class at Frederick Harley Davidson.  I learned on a Buell Blast, a 440cc sporty standard bike.  The course was about six hours a day for three days and it was, like the name of the bike, a blast!  As a child and as a teen, I was an avid cyclist and had raced BMX bicycles for several years.  I had ridden mopeds and minibikes as well, and have continued to cycle ever since then.  These experiences all came back to me when riding that little Buell.  The last day was the test and I passed.  With a total of about twelve hours of riding under my belt, I went to MVA and turned in my paperwork and was presented with my M class endorsement.
It would be another year before I would buy a bike.  I continued to research and now, go out and ride the bikes that I was interested in.  Unfortunately, most of the dealers won’t let you test ride the bikes.  The exceptions?  All Harley Davidson dealers.  I test rode several bikes and concluded that unless I got one with forward controls, a Sporster would be too small.  The Suzuki Boulevard S40 was actually much smaller than the Sportster in spite of having the same wheelbase.  This is because it has a much greater rake angle to the forks, which makes it resemble a mini-Wide Glide.  The comparison tests I was reading were consistently putting Harleys ahead of most of their competition as well, particularly in the areas that interested me, speed not being among them.  By this point, the other bike that had drawn my interest was the Kawasaki Vulcan 900, but without being able to ride one first, buying it wasn’t happening.  Also, I was trying to stick with an air cooled engine for simplicity’s sake.
By the end of 2012, I was in a new relationship and thankfully, with another lady named Lynda who was very encouraging of my intent to ride.  We went to the bike show in January with my younger son and I got to at least sit on a good number of bikes.  At this point, I was coming to the conclusion that I would need a larger bike due to my height.  At 6’4” with a 36” inseam, many of the bikes that initially interested me as a new rider were simply too small for me to comfortably ride.  By April of 2012, I still hadn’t found a bike and had ridden less than a full hour since taking the class.  But that changed on April 19th.
On April 19th, I looked at a used 1996 Harley Davidson FXD Super Glide at Battley Cycles.  Sam Yang, the salesman who had been patiently answering my questions for over a year, had informed me of this bike.  It was in near mint condition.  It looked almost like it had just rolled out of the factory.  Only the faded leather bags gave away that it wasn’t brand new.  The test drive was my first ride in several months, but I was immediately comfortable on the bike.  I was initially concerned that a 1340cc engine would be too much, but its power delivery was very well modulated.  It never gave too much and power built slowly and progressively.  Handling was very predictable and the ride was nicer than any of the Sportsters.  It had a windshield, saddle bags and a tool bag.  I went back on Saturday to finalize the purchase.  It was at this point that I began regularly keeping my riding journal.

Rock hard, ride free!