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:

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!