Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Rock (take two)

Chris Zink and I got out for a ride, today. Thurmont and then to the Rock. Anybody who hasn't made the trip up to the Rock is in need of it!

There were lots of motorcycles. Right after we got parked and dismounted, Chris spotted a Harley with a Santa and Christmas decorations. We walked over to take a look and a whole crew of riders streamed into the parking area, behind us.

Here's the Santa Clause

I took a few pictures to try to capture the effect of how the rock sits so high and overlooks so much.

Chris is helping a group of cyclists get a group photo.

Standing atop the rock and shooting down into the valley. Those are fairly big barns, down there.

There was an Aprila and two KTM's that we admired at some length. One had a great camera mount. Darned if I can remember what he called it, but I NEED one of those! He described how he could take still pictures running down the road, but because of vibration might get two or three good ones out of ten, but those were two or three he would not have had otherwise.

This sign provided me some insight into the how hang gliding is becoming a more regulated and safer activity.

A bit of the scenery before lunch.

I bought a Bob Dylan CD at the Starbucks on the way home after Chris and I parted near Emmitsburg. First song, and his guitar is out of tune. Things don't always have to be perfect to be perfect -- the opposite of my thoughts during the ride that I shared with Chris: how virtue seems to disapear if one looks at it too closely. Humility is something we appreciate in others, but as soon as we see it in ourselves and say, "Hey, I have humility!" the spell is broken. George Soros tried to interest philosophy professors in his pursuing such a notion as a course of study. They failed to appreciate the proposal, and one of his greatest disapointments, he says in his book, is not having become a philosopher.

Now, of course, he can endow a few institutions for such purposes, if he wants.

Guess we might invite him to take a motorcycling class.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Nice Day, but no Riding

My friend, Mindy, needed a ride to the Baltimor/Washington International Airport, this morning. Well, she needed me to drop her off and bring her car back as it's cheaper than paying for parking. I had stayed up pretty late, last night, so slept in then did not get ready until just before she came by.

After dropping her off, I went to breakfast at Daniel's, a biker hangout next to Speed Cycles on Highway 1 in Elk Ridge. The Highway 1 exit was very convienient to BWI airport. I order, and open Niel Peart's "Ghost Rider" to continue reading, while sipping a diet coke and waiting for my food.

The book tells about the author's travels across Canada, and in the part I'm reading now, he is in the North-West of the United States. He describes spending a pleasant afternoon and night in Boise, then getting up the next morning, eschewing the latte places with parking lots full of pickup trucks, and heads out.

He ends up eating, and I can't believe my eyes, at a family diner in Weiser (pronounced wee-zer), Idaho.

Well, that was where I spent many years, growing up -- a hometown to me a friend who I often visit in New Jersey. He didn't name the restaurant, but he said it was just outside of town, so that narrows it down to either the Beehive on the South East, or May's Shack on the North East, at either end of the where the truck Route cuts across the eastern part of town -- East 7th, if I remember correctly from my paper route days, delivering papers in the winter on an 80cc Yamaha with knobby tires.

I have a coffee cup, purchased from the Beehive, during one of the high school reunions. May's Shack was redone, and I remember a very good meal there. It was hardly the dive roadhouse that I remembered from high school days when we use to spend hours drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and occasionally playing guitars to Seranade Edna, an elderly waitress who was always good-humoured and a friend to many, who in later years found themselves with bad habits and less and less oportunity.

I turned to the guy next to me, at Daniel's. "What a coincidence," I told him. Then I explained about the book and Weiser. That turned into a pleasant discussion of our own about the dream of having enough money to just go riding -- and the notion that some people get around the world on motorcycles without much money.

I dropped by Bob's BMW on the way home, bought a bulb for my rear brake light. I've read that one should always have a spare. It was a small thing -- less than $2.00 -- but a positive step toward the next time when I can go down the road with no fixed end date.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Second trip to the doctor

Epidurals are not as bad as you might expect, but they're no fun. The second one went quicker than the first one. Afterward, I sat across the Street at the Something Special Coffee Shop, in Laurel and spent an hour observing the soreness in my back. It wasn't improving fast. Nevertheless, I made a short hop up highway-one to Bob's BMW and then West to the Four Seasons Restaurant on 70 for lunch, before heading home.

This time I remembered to take pictures of the great lunch. It came to $12, including a two-dollar tip.

There were two other riders from Baltimore who were excited to learn about Bob's BMW and the Saturday activities.

In trying to avoid high-conflict routes where there is a lot of traffic, one sometimes... well, ones GPS sometimes provides a different kind of conflict: End of pavement!

Turn around? ...or move forward hoping that it will be short and not too bad? Actually, I had driven the road many years ago and didn't remember it being that bad.

It took two days before my back started to feel better. This morning, three aspirin seemed to end the complaints.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

BMW HP2 Baja

If I hit the lottery, there will be a place in my garage for an HP2. I somehow think that I could ride the Baja even though I've not been on a dirt bike in years. Also, I envy those journalists who get paid to cover such things.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

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Army-Navy Saturday Ride

December 2nd, and the weather is absolutely beckoning! I wasted no time, after waking up, getting dressed and out for the ride. Where to go? Bob's for a donut? Going out the door, I spotted a bottle of S100 that I use for cleaning the bike, when I do wash it. The last weekend, I had finished one of Chris Zink's bottles. I could take this to her place then decide on what next.

A new member in the BMWBMW club recently posted a ride report that reminded me that one of the things I like almost as much as the ride is writing about the ride. Today, I would look for photographic opportunities.

I like to begin my weekend rides with short hop up Sligo Creak Parkway. It gets me warmed up with a few tight turns as it follows the course of Sligo Creek. It was a beautiful, crisp morning.

Sligo Creek Parkway is not a path to follow when it is or recently has been raining. The creek quickly fills and overflows, knocking down bridges and trees.

The sun was going to be bright. I needed to change my visor to the tinted one. The normal process for doing this was taught to me by Coleen, at Bob's, back when she was working in the accessories department. I remember her well because she reminded me of my great aunt and my first wife.

Meeting Coleen opened my eyes to the fact that I had first married a woman who reminded me of my Great Aunt, Clara Hatton. I had not considered the resemblance until Coleen reminded me of both of them. Coleen did not seem to appreciate knowing that she reminded me of somebody two generations older.

I actually proposed to auntie Clara, asking her if she would marry me, when I was five or six. She never married but had a very successful life as a college professor, becoming the head of Colorado State University's art department for many years. The exhibit gallery in their new art department building bears her name.

Clara taught me pottery in a studio behind her house that she had converted from a garage adding a kiln, a work bench and a pottery wheel. After much begging, she got me started on oil painting, and this is a story I remember with some humor -- her telling me, "I will teach you what I can, but if you want to know anything about modern art, I'm sorry, I can't help you. I just do not understand it." She repeated that phrase twice. I never forgot and wondered for many years why she felt it so important to say that. It was not like her to belittle the tastes of others. Years later, as I prepared to teach a particularly challenging technical class, it hit me that even though her student was only 5 or 6, her integrity required that she provide some disclaimer concerning the limits of her knowledge and ability to teach.

Well, the upshot of this is that she fought for many years for a new art building. After she retired, the department finally got one. She was invited to the opening and the dedication of the gallery. I think that I was in the Philippines and could not attend. Years later, after she passed, I was in Denver with my family for Christmas at Grandmother's: her surviving sister's. My Dad and my brothers hopped in my rental car and made a pilgrimage North to Fort Collins to visit the neighborhoods where he grew up, the house his mother (a third grade teacher) had lived in and where I had spent a semester of High School while attending Poudre, and we visited the art building. It tickled me that it was a very impressive and very functional bit of very modern architecture.

Anyway, when Coleen showed me how to change visor's, I might have detected a hint of good-humored condescension that she had to show this guy how to do something so basic. The process I repeated ever since went pretty much like she showed me. I would find a flat place to work, or get off my bike and use the seat, setting the new visor aside, and the felt holder/protector aside, then pulling the visor of the Arai helmet up so that the tabs popped out, lifting them, then removing the visor. I place it in the protective cover, then went through the gyrations of installing the replacement visor. The installation, for me was the hard part, and I had managed to break some of the plastic parts more than once, prompting another visit to the parts counter at Bob's.

More lube might have been a good idea.

Because the Winter days are so short, I need to change the visor more frequently. I'm more apt to begin and end the riding day while it is dark. Earlier, last week, I tried changing the visor without removing the helmet. Removal went well, but not the replacement. Maybe with practice...

Today, I sat in a parking area near Sligo Creek and decided to try it without dismounting. I removed the replacement from the tank bag, and took off my helmet. I faced the helmet away from me the way Coleen had taught me, removed the replacement visor from its protective sleeve and balanced the sleeve easily enough on the instrument console. Then, holding the replacement visor in one hand, I lifted the visor of the helmet until the tabs popped out with the other hand, then without setting the replacement visor down, with the free hand I lifted the tabs then lifted the visor out of the helmet. Still holding the removed visor in one hand, I found I was able to align and install its replacement from the other hand without having to set either one down and risk their falling off or becoming scratched. Big improvement.

Still, I'm going to practice changing visors with the helmet on my head.

I set the GPS to take me to Chris Zink's house by the "shortest" rather than the fastest route.

Continuing up Sligo, the GPS soon prompted me to make an unusual turn. Usually I go to Colesville Rd, Maryland Rt 29, and take it to the freeway -- avoiding Georgia, where I and another experienced friend both were rear-ended by inattentive, immigrant, middle-eastern drivers. The GPS said to take a right on Worth. Realizing it was a short cut that I had seen others darting into, I tried it. It took me to a left on Franklin and then to Colesville, giving me an easy right turn and missing the more congested light where Sligo crosses 29. Cool.

Later, on my return, I enjoyed catching a left on Franklin, while the light on Sligo held up oncoming traffic.

Don't you just love it when life presents you with ways of doing things more easily?

I figured I would find breakfast along the way. McDonald's was tempting. I continued up 29, then North on New Hampshire through Cloverly. I had never noticed the name of that neighborhood. I noted a parking lot full of police cars and was tempted to see where they were eating. As I was already moving past, I decided to save that location for a future exploration when I did not have a destination, already.

It was pretty cold. 30's? I passed a guy jogging with loose-fitting shorts over his tights. It reminded me of ladies at the Peace Corps that invited me to go running in the cold with them. I was shy about running in tights. This guy had that solution. But as I rode on I inwardly chided myself on the need for modesty.

The GPS gave me a right on Ednor -- another new turn and a new road that proved to be a real pleasure. I rode past great houses, many for sale signs (have I missed a bet, not trying Real Estate sales?), and many of the houses had garages for more than one vehicle. What else does a motorcyclist look at first?

I saw through some trees a sun-lit picture of horses grazing in a pasture. Riding a motorcycle, I had no trouble making a couple of U-turns, then pulling into the narrow grassy area next to the fence, out of traffic on the narrow two-lane, to take a picture.

The road took me over a bridge with a pretty view of Rocy Gorge Reservoir, past a bow hunting area...

"Gee," I wondered, "I should probably be alert for deer."

Rounding another curve the pavement turned red. Somebody earlier hadn't been looking out for deer, it seemed. I saw a house setting on a hill behind the bare trees -- a view that the foliage of other seasons would have hidden. Neat place to live.

The road changed it's name to Brown Bridge Road. I knew I had passed that road riding to another destination, but when? Then, a left on Scaggsville Road. I remembered my GPS telling me, more than a year before, to use Scaggsville Road on a trip to Gaithersburg from Bob's and eschewing it for 32 to 108 never dreaming there could be such a scenic route closer-in to the beltway. Scaggsville Road quickly took me to a right on 108 at the intersection where I have often enjoyed shopping in Boarman's Market, a rural grocery store with a great butcher who reminds me of the wry wit of Mr. Adams, back home in Weiser, Idaho.

108 took me North for a gas stop at the Exxon station, in Clarksville, at the Hwy 32 interchange. There, I called Chris and made sure I could drop by. I always enjoy the next two legs of the trip to her place from 32 -- North to a left on Sheppard Ln, and Sheppard to a Left at a traffic circle on Folly Quarter Rd.

My bike manages traffic circles so much better with a new shock!

I thought about visiting the grass air strip and the private single-engine planes, slowed for a car coming out of the Franciscan monastery estate. The wooden fence did a good job of blocking his view of the road. Passing a few bicyclists, I was soon at Chris's. She was packing for a noon flight to Tucson, AZ.

"I looked at the weather report. It's all 67 and sunny until Wednesday when it gets cloudy and goes up to 71," she would tell me.

She would miss her motorcycle and her doggie-family while she was gone, however.

In one of the pictures, you can see the obstacle course that Chris has set up in her back yard for agility training. It surprises me the number of motorcyclists I've met with connections to agility training or other competitive dog events.

Chris is something of an authority, having written a book or two. Never mind being selected to be the head of her veterinarian Medicine department at Johns Hopkins. She was even invited to an ocean cruise, once, as a guest lecturer for a cruise with fellow dog enthusiasts.

"What are you up to?" she asked.

"I don't know. I need to get some breakfast. Maybe McDonald's... maybe the Four Seasons."

Leaving, I continued up Folly Quarter, enjoying the scenery so much that I had to double-back for a right on Walt Ann Drive, a short cut to Tridelphia Road, then a left on Rosemary to 32. I liked getting to 32 without having to double back on my path to 108. I thought about taking 144 to the Four Seasons restaurant, but hunger was getting the better of me. It was only 10:30, but I had not had breakfast.

Perhaps 70 would be leisurely on a Saturday morning? Not!

I about got iced out by an unyielding semi (Maine plates on trailer; Frederick, MD address on its cab) at the on-ramp. Falling in, behind I found the center and left lanes full of tailgaters. I watched the semi, at 80 mph, jockeying for positions, alternating through each lane, ahead of me and decided to let some time build between us.

I couldn't remember which exit it was, but knew that I would see the Four Seasons Restaurant on the left. I did not remember that there had been advertisements for the Four Seasons on the freeway, but as I neared the exit to Highway 27, they were advertised. I noted signs that would have got me to the restaurant even if I had not remembered the location from a poker run a couple of years back and occasional return visits, since.

The parking lot was full, but I got lucky with a space in front so I could watch my bike from a window while I ate. I noted a Japanese crotch rocket parked in another space and a helmet with a BMW rondel on it, but never saw the rider.

I had a very good and reasonably-priced meal: ham, eggs over-medium, toast, homefries with onions, and coffee & orange juice that with a two-dollar tip only came to $10.00. I ate it all then wished I had taken a picture to share what a good meal it was.

After breakfast, I rode West on Penn Shop Road to a right on Kemptown and an immediate left on Clarksburg. All most pleasant roads. More horses in pastures and I could see they were wearing their heavy winter coats. I figured to find my way eventually to the Muddy Branch Starbucks, in Gaithersburg, before getting to my American Legion for the Army Navy game festivities. I took Clarksburg Road past Bethesda Church then doubled-back on a beckoning single-lane Barnes Rd. that, before it was done, brought me into some new housing. A left on Browningsville Rd. took me past a number of economical looking hilltop homes. I wondered at their winter heating bills given their exposure. A left on 75 took me to 355 which I took South until reconnection with Clarksburg Rd. Highway 270 then let me fast-forward to Sam Eig and the Starbucks.

At Starbucks, I got a cup of tea, scored a stuffed chair, read a chapter of Niel Peart's Ghost Rider, and took a short nap. After the nap and a bit more reading, I was off to the Legion and the game, where for a small donation I enjoyed the benefits of a potluck provided by the past-commanders of the Post.

I don't watch a lot of sports on television, but think that I'll make the Army/Navy game at the legion a tradition.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Red Bull

Never tried it before. Now, I'll find out. My back sometimes prevents me from getting a good night's sleep. Then, the pain medication tends to make me drowsey. Part of being ready to ride is managing one's alertness. While I know better than to depend upon caffiene for any long ride I'm going to be interested in how this product works, or might work, for a pick-me-up on the last leg of a ride. Is there a short term benefit?

Conclusion? Maybe. I felt a bit helter-skelter, however. Better to plan ahead and take frequent naps. I have no trouble catching a nap anytime on the road. I can put the side stand down, set my wrist watch alarm for 20 minutes, fold my arms and lay my helmeted head upon them on the tank bag. Ear plugs help. Rest stops, behind MacDonalds, next to gas stations... I've learned that rest stops at night are not always the best idea, however.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Riding the GT!

Well, I had a couple of doctor appointments, today. My back is still bothering me, from the accident last May. A few months back I started having problems and thought that I just needed to pay more attention to my PT exercises, but when the pain came home to roost, one morning while teaching a motorcycle safety class, I went back to the doctor and got a MRI that found bone chips off of disks in my back that are floating in the spinal column.

Anyway, I dropped by Bob's BMW to make sure that I had the dampening of my new shock correct.

Carter saw me and asked, "What bike would you like to ride, today?"

At first I deferred. We discussed my thoughts on new bikes.

"At some point, I want to ride a LT just because I've not ridden a K bike," I allowed.

He suggested the K1200GT. I told him that I thought that was temptation with at capitol 'T' but decided to take him up on it.


What a truly nice motorcycle.

Smooth, well mannered, superb handling, and increadible power!

I want one!

Not only does it have the power and handling to get you out of trouble with maximum dispatch, should you need it, but it also handled wonderfully at low RPM's and low speeds.

I had no trouble riding it through a couple of slow figure 8's with the handle bars hard right and hard left. That was a first for me on any bike.

In fourth gear at about 55mph, I caught up to a very slow driver and decided to scoot around him. Adding a bit of throttle after changing lanes like I reflexively would on my cruiser, resulted in a surge of acceleration that was eye opening. I'll admit that I had a hard time keeping it down to posted speed limits and was more comfortable riding on slower streets where other vehicles helped me maintain a reasonable pace. It just wanted to fly!

Brakes are not only powerful, like those on my cruiser, but they seem much smoother both getting on them and getting off. Also, the mirrors provide much better visibility than any bike I've ridden, previously.

I didn't get a chance to play with the adjustable shocks, but Carter set them for a single rider before I left, and I must say that they handled bumps very well -- exactly what a doctor might order for my back!

I brought it back and as I stopped, putting my foot down for the first time since departure, I felt as if I was being transformed from a creature of flight back to a clay-footed human being.

Walking back into Bob's, I looked at Carter and seeing his knowing smile I just had to laugh. The experience was great fun and the ride was truly inspiring.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Motorcycle Birthday

Well, not exactly its birthday, that would be in May, but I discovered that I had just passed 60,000 miles on the odometer. Probably it was sitting on 60K as I gave it an infrequent bath at BMWBMW club member, Chris Zink's.

That's Chris's Norwich Terrier, Vespa, in the foreground.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Riding the GS

Perhaps it is this time of year. If you're a dedicated rider, when is there a better time to look at new bikes? The less dedicated, while doing less riding, are looking at budgets and holiday expenses. Maybe they decide to redirect recreational activities toward something less expensive that can be done indoors. Chess or Bridge, anyone? They put their motorcycles go on the market at a time when the number of new riders entering the market is at a seasonal low. Those of us who would never think of giving up riding are stimulated to think about the next year of riding, maybe while we are putting repairs on the current steed. In the worst of weather, we can catch up on our reading of motorcycle magazines, and there we see coverage of new models.

My 2003 R1200 CLC is a few hundred miles shy of 60K miles and has been in need of a new rear shock for a couple of years, truth be told. Early in the year, the techs assured me that the current one was within spec's," but added that an aftermarket shock would improve performance. Improved performance, in shocks, translates into improved safety, so it's time to make the improvement. The price of a new shock, it's installation, and other needed work (60K service coming up) adds up to an amount that would make a good down payment on a new bike. So, like many others, I deliberate as well.

The CLC was not the most popular model BMW ever developed. BMW decided not to make them any more. Motorcycle Consumer News has echoed the opinion of many, chalking up BMW’s decision to curtail the model to the lack of a larger engine to put into it, and a conviction that BMW needed a larger engine to compete with the larger displacement cruisers from other manufacturers.

I disagree. I think that the 60 horsepower engine is a better choice than larger horsepower choices. The BMW cruiser does not need to conform to the mold of other manufacturers. As it is, or was, it served well for someone, such as me, buying a first 1200 cc BMW. It had the boxer engine. It had comfort and luxury features of larger models. It provided a great seat for a significant other who might also be new to the idea of motorcycling. Sixty horsepower is enough to get the job done, but not so much that power alone might get you into trouble. The new rider really has to push it to “push it.”

As my riding ability matures, there are two or three things that I now find limiting, with the cruiser. One, it is not the best vehicle for off-road use or even for unimproved roads. Two, it is not as stable at speeds above 80 as I would like – probably because of the amount of cargo I gratefully carry in the two hard side-bags and the back box. Third, it does not have a very ample fuel range. At 110 miles on the trip meter, the gas light generally comes on – not that it isn’t a good idea to take a break every couple of hours.

Many people in the Baltimore Metro Washington BMW riders’ club ( ride GS motorcycles. They advocate the model. Jim Von Baden is a particular advocate and I know he is a considerate and good rider with experience that includes other BMW rides. Jim was one of the first to admonish me to get new shocks, and having seen my cruiser arrive with tell-tale bits of mud, suggested that I look at a GS. I’ve also seen a few Iron Butt riders, one parked at Bob’s BMW on recent Saturday and others at the Finger Lakes Rally, riding GS’s.

Discussions with Daryl and John in the service department yielded two very different opinions. Daryl felt that I would enjoy riding more if I rode a sportier bike. John hinted that what mattered most was a matter of the heart, and I had to agree that I was pretty much in love with my cruiser.

The other models on my radar are the LT and the new K1200 GT. When I purchased my cruiser, I didn’t buy a LT because I wanted a boxer engine. Even though the LT might not be any better on dirt and muddy roads, it might not be any worse. Its added comfort and range are still attractive. Never mind the picture of Don Arthur’s odometer reading 300,000 miles that is tacked up near the coffee pot at Bob’s BMW. There is conjecture that the next model of the LT will have the new GT’s engine. That’s an attractive idea. As you’ve probably read the same reviews that I have about the GT, I’ll not go through my thinking concerning it, but a GT engine in a LT might be something that I might want to look at when I have a budget, down the road.

In the end, I decided to keep my cruiser, get a good set of after-market shocks, and put another 40K miles on it if I can. It deserves to see a hundred thousand miles. More to the point, I know that if I were to ever part with it, I would regret it as it has been a part of so many memories in these first few years of my riding BMW.

Henry Winokur, my boss in the Maryland Motorcycle Safety Program, ordered Works Shocks. Knowing Henry, I didn’t have to do the price/performance calculations myself. I called them and asked for the MSF Instructor/BMW club discount (which turned out to only be $10) and ordered their best rear shock, grateful that somebody was finding enough business manufacturing parts for the cruiser. I scheduled the replacement at Bob’s then called Carter and asked about doing a test ride on a GS.

What I left out of this story was a recent weekend ride with other riders of the BMWBMW club after the monthly ride-to-eat breakfast. I followed Jed, a more experienced rider on a LT. Stopping for a cup of tea, at his place afterward, he pointed out that I seemed a bit “tentative” in my riding. Not knowing about my need for shocks, he suggested that I might enjoy the business of riding a bike that handled better. That underlined, in my mind, the need to at least find out what I was missing.

Carter pointed out the features of the GS. He showed how to start it then turned on the heated grips to get them ready for my ride home. Then he spent a few moments describing other features like the brakes, how to use the center stand, and hard bags that could be expanded with a neat lever to hold more cargo.

I appreciated the idea of “partially linked brakes.” A rear brake that only worked on the rear wheel and a front brake that added in some rear brake sounded like a good arrangement.

“Have fun,” he said. “Call if you have any questions.”

With a wave he headed back inside, out of the cold.

I put on my helmet then walked around the bike a couple of times looking for the accessory jack to plug in my Gerbing Winter gear. Not finding it, I decided to look for it later and call if I needed to do so.

Taking off, the bike had a very different feel to it. I tested the brakes and was relieved to find in them the same kind of performance I get on my cruiser. Turning was different. I made a couple of U-turns in the parking lot to get the feel of things before deciding to head toward the road. It would take a while to adjust counter weighting skills for slow turns. It was more than the fact that the head light was not attached to the forks. Stopping at the entry to the road before turning right, the height of the bike required tip toes, and I’m taller than a good many of those I see riding the GS. The right turn was still disconcerting so I rode just a bit before finding a parking area to experiment. After a few more tries it started to feel manageable. Still not entirely comfortable, I rode on.

First just a short hop, then a bite to eat, before moving on. Dorsey Run had no traffic. It was a good place to feel a bit of the power and enjoy the throaty sound of the well tuned boxer engine. It went well in a straight line. The shocks handled train tracks in a way that started to give me a sense of confidence. As a few small curves fell behind I got an idea of something that was bugging me. The bike felt like a precision dirt bike. Although it has been many years since I’ve ridden a dirt bike, I kept thinking that I had knobby tires, and that was not the case. I was off balance because the bike was trying to perform better than I wanted to let it. Later, coming to some tighter corners, I realized that it would also take some time to get use to the extra power of the engine on the chassis so much lighter than my cruiser. I had to be more on the throttle to prevent too much deceleration as the GS not only has power to go, but the power to slow down, and at speeds and in gears that I did not expect compression to be in the picture. Gearing down to second for a corner, I particularly had to be careful not to close the throttle all the way. Riding a higher performance bike requires skills that one can forget riding more forgiving bikes.

After a quick barbeque sandwich and a coke at Daniels, I called Carter and he clued me in to where the accessory jack was hiding. While I had been around the bike three or four times without finding it, knowing right where to look (under where your left hip would be on the seat) made all the difference. Route 100 took me to 108 then more two lane corners on Sheppard’s Lane to Foley Quarter. Still I felt the bike trying to brake on me in the corners. It was most noticeable when I tried to idle through a corner instead of accelerating. A few more corners and I realized that it was also the position of my head relative to the front tire, and the steeper rake of the forks that was adding to the sensation.

I turned and headed for Takoma Park, making a point to ride Sligo Creek Parkway down from 29, just inside the beltway. By the time I got to the South end of the parkway, I had throttle control in the corners down a bit better and I was beginning to trust the fact that the bike had good street rubber on the tires.

Now, let me hasten to say that what I’m describing are mostly the feelings of reflexes inexperienced with the GS trying to acquire familiarity, not any actual defects in the bike. This is useful mostly if you are interested in how it feels for someone relatively inexperienced to ride one for the first time. The bike felt impressive in not only its power but also its precision. Sometimes, at higher RPM’s, it reminded me handling a good electric razor. Other times its sure-footedness reminded me of a Jeep CJ5 negotiating dirt roads, in Idaho. Its shocks gave a protective feeling of deep cushions protecting me from hazards in the road the sense of protection reminded me of a SUV. I might not have the protection of a SUV, but I felt as tough as one for dealing with challenging terrain.

I pondered how to describe the overall feeling of riding a GS. Not everyone will understand how the GS reminded me a helicopter simulator that once conveyed to me how an Osprey has more armor to protect pilot and crew from small arms fire than a Night Hawk and the power to quickly jump vast distances. Maybe a more useful analogy is that of a heavy-weight fighter who can jump rope faster than anyone you’ve ever seen.

The next day was cold and rainy. I rode to work in DC then up to Bob's, near Baltimore, in the Thanksgiving holiday traffic. I rode without the Gerbing gear turned on and was impressed with how warm the heated grips alone kept me. The concern had been that I might be less comfortable without a heated seat. Still, about a mile before the exit of 32 -- I had already explored 29 and Hwy 1 North and found them to be worse than 95 -- but about a mile before the 32 exit traffic came to a halt. As we inched past the rest stop, I was tempted to ride through the rest stop to get ahead an eighth of a mile, but passed the entrance. Slowly the rain soaked through my unheated Gerbing pants and suddenly I realized that there were parts of me that were cold that were not use to feeling cold. Note: remember when leaving your bike at a dealer to grab your rain gear! I hoped the drivers in the cars understood as I slowly rode up the shoulder the last quarter mile to the exit. It was time to stop standing on ceremony.

I apologized to Carter for getting the bike wet and bought a rainproof Olympia Jacket for the return trip. Riding my bike cruiser home with new shocks, it felt very different from the GS. The handlebars were too high. I think I figured out what people meant by the word "flickable" and it wasn't a flickable. But I was glad to have my rain pants on and did the heated seat ever feel good! Moreover, the sound of the boxer engine, and it always sounds better after Steve gets done tuning it, was a reminder of what I like most about both bikes.

Someday, I will have a GS for a ride to Alaska then South America. Meanwhile I have another 40K to put on my current odometer.

Things I liked about the GS:
  1. Height
  2. Shock travel distance
  3. Fuel capacity (the gas light went on, so I filled it and have never put that much gas in a motorcycle before).
  4. Shift lever no longer depresses once you're in first gear.
  5. Instruments that show gear & fuel level
  6. Power!
  7. Performance over speed bumps.... What speed bumps? Were those speed bumps?
  8. Great brakes and their partially-linked feature.
  9. I found the seat comfortable despite the lack of heating.
  10. Heated grips did a good job of keeping my morale up in the cold & wet.
Things that I did not particularly like:
  1. Lack of heated seat
  2. Small wind screen
  3. I kept looking for another gear on the top end
  4. Can-Bus instead of fuses (Gerbing jacket liner and pants caused the accesory outlet to shut down. I'll admit I went to some trouble to find the fuses before giving up and deciding to run without figuring that I the fuse it would need would be in my tool bag in the cruiser's side bag.)
  5. Needs more lights (Cruiser has two low and two high, providing built-in redundancy).
Post script:

Friday the 24th at Bob's was "Black Friday" with a great sale and a promotion that allowed me to ride to lunch with Bob at a great restaurant afer purchasing things I really needed, anyway, at a discount. It was a splendid day for riding -- almost unbelievable after the last two days of drizzle.

I killed about an hour discussing motorcycles with several other riders before overhearing Laura Jones in a conversation with Don Williams concerning a new R bike's filter. They were discussing the business of how you could get an extra few-tenths of a gallon into the tank by re-routing the overflow hose to the canister -- something that my cruiser would benefit from. Laura had to leave, but Don and I continued a conversation about the GS. It turns out that he has resolved some of the things that concerned me.

A new seat provides him with heat. Windscreen and lights are simple enough to upgrade. And he described a trip to St. John's Bay that reminded me that there are adventures fairly close at hand, on this continent.

He also told me about his method of using the Airflow pants as an insulating layer under an Aerostich. I need both, and both are easier to afford than a new motorcycle, at the moment.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Rock

The BMWBMW club has a monthly RTE (ride to eat) that meets in Thurmont for breakfast. This day, we filled the better part of four tables. Afterward, someone asked if there were any rides planned and somebody said something about riding up to "The Rock." I decided to fall in line and see what this might be.