Monday, October 1, 2018

Knees in the Breeze

11 December 2018

Merry Christmas! I'm in the process of buying a 2016 Harley-Davidson Road King! It's the black police bike I linked to yesterday. (Photo) I have to either wire the money to Classic Iron in Fredericksburg or bring them a cashier's check today; I might even be able to ride it home depending upon road conditions down there. (They got eight inches of snow on Sunday night, but I'm told that Route 1 and I-95 are both clear and dry. It was sunny and above freezing yesterday and the forecast is for the same today as well.) Obviously, more on this later!

I did a quick oil change on Marva, my Suzuki Boulevard, yesterday. That bike is in great shape! Anyone want to buy it?

10 December 2018

On Friday I took a bike ride down to Fredericksburg and investigated Harley Road Kings at Classic Iron. The one I'm looking at is a black 2016 police bike. That is to say it's a police model; with only 2,000 miles on it.

I don't think it ever spent any time in use by a cop in a Virginia police department. Classic Iron often buys bikes from jurisdictions in Virginia who order police bikes from Harley and then, for some budgetary reason or another, don't actually deploy them. When this was explained to me and I commented "Your tax dollars at work!", the salesman grinned at me.

What makes it "police?" This particular bike has an analog tachometer mounted on the tank where the speedometer normally goes, then has a speedometer mounted atop the fork. I actually prefer that - you can keep an eye on the speedometer while still looking down the road. It's not a big deal, but apparently the police departments prefer it that way for some reason and Harley-Davidson accommodates them. It also has a couple of inert red switches for a (non-existent) siren and flashing blue and red lights (which have clear lens and don't flash).

This bike was built in the factory in York, PA that I visited last month!

7 December 2018

Motorcycle Friday! These are necessarily shorter than they were in the summer. It doesn't warm up until 10 or after, and by the time 3 PM rolls around, the long shadows make it pretty clear that it's time to be home.  Right now (9:25 AM) it's 38 degrees. I want it in the 40s. The forecast calls for a sunny day, so that'll help. I've figured out clothing that keeps me basically warm except for the hands and fingertips. I need better gloves!

Where shall I go? I'm not sure, but West Virginia and the usual distant sites seem to not be practicable. (I can stand the cold but there's a limit!) Fredericksburg seems to be a likely destination.

6 December 2018

It was 32 degrees for my motorcycle ride into work this morning - but, still, it wasn't bad at all. It's all relative... it was noticeably better than the morning I got into work when the temps were in the high 20s with wind gusts.

3 December 2018

On Friday I mentioned that the weather kept me from having a motorcycle ride. Actually, the sun came out a bit later in the day and I was able to take a short, pleasant ride down the I-95 Express lanes to the Quantico National Cemetery, where I found the grave site of Marine Ira Baker, the Harley salesman I knew. Afterwards I stopped at the Quantico Harley dealership, where the manager made me a very good last-day-of-the-month offer on a 2017 Road King. After some deliberation I turned it down. The 2017 has the new Milwaukee-8 engine. And this bike is a dark silver. I want a black 2014-2016 with the 103 Twin Cam engine. Still, it's a great deal. Hmmm.

30 November 2018

A motorcycle Friday!

Now that I've put the tinsel up on the tree and processed my vacation photos order from Costco - where shall I go? I'm not sure. There's a chance of rain today, but it's not a big chance. It's supposed to be cloudy all day. A high of 44 degrees, brrrr.


Two hours later: I washed some road crud off my bike, then it rained while I was in the shower! Grrrrr. The temp is currently 42 degrees. I don't have any rain gear. I can endure some summer rain but rain and a temp in the 40s is a ride-killer for me. (Motorcycle wind chill chart.) Maybe the sun will come out this afternoon and I can take a little ride then...

Or, seeing as how my bike is just about due for an oil change, perhaps I'll do that in the garage this afternoon. Or this weekend. (The weather forecast is crummy this weekend, too.)

It's pretty clear: Riding season is kind of over. It's "Better than nothing" rides for me until the Spring.

29 November 2018

Yesterday I bought some glove liners for my motorcycle gloves and gave 'em a run to Clifton in the 30-something degree weather to see if my fingertips got cold. They eventually did. The liners help - but what I really need are better gloves. I may be shopping for some at a Harley dealership tomorrow...

28 November 2018

A cold morning ride into work! It was 29 degrees and gusty. But I was wearing my new L.L.Bean base layer (thermal "long johns") and thicker wool socks, and these helped a lot. My fingers still got cold, however. I may want to investigate warmer gloves.

The first time I rode a motorcycle in gusts was a nervous experience. I was a very new rider taking the I-495 Express Lanes for the first time and didn't like any buffeting. But I took them in stride this morning. It comes with experience and confidence, I guess. That and the knowledge that it takes a pretty substantial gust to blow a 300 pound man riding a 544 pound bike into another lane.

27 November 2018

Three of us in center. 
Went to Tyson's Corner over the break. I got myself some L.L. Bean warm socks and thermal underwear for riding to work on a bike on cold mornings. We shall see how well they work later this week...

My daughter Meredith and her Harley-riding husband Zach and I drove up to York, PA to take the "steel toe" factory tour at the Harley-Davidson factory... this was really interesting. It was exciting to see Americans assemble American bikes with American-made steel! They use flat steel for the fenders and enormous rolls of steel for the fuel tanks. These are banged into shape by enormous pressing machines - when I worked at Lockheed back in 1979 we referred to the place where these were located as "The Hall of Giants."

Painting is an extremely fussy process; parts get rejected for the least little reason. And, no, Harley does not sell "factory seconds" bikes. The order list is set up in Milwaukee and sent to the plant. Each part is arranged by computer to arrive at the assembly line at a certain time, "just in time" inventory and all that. It was very cool being on the factory floor to watch the whole process.  Harley learned a thing or two from Disney - we exited through the gift shop...

21 November 2018

Wow! Cold ride into work this morning: 32 degrees. (That's what my porch thermometer said. says it was colder.) Anyway, this is my new commuting cold weather record. My Land's End scarf arrived in the mail just in time! There is one spot on the road I am always wary of: a place where water seeps from the street mysteriously. It was ice this morning; it may be ice later today. I may be riding on the sidewalk!

Yesterday Zach (my Harley-riding son-in-law) and I took our anticipated motorcycle ride in rural Virginia. It was fun! And cold. VIDEO HERE. The weather forecast called for a 10% chance of rain and then no rain at all, but you can guess what started to happen. (In mid-40s degree weather, yet.)

At one point I had called off the ride south in the Shenandoah Valley because it's well-known that weather blows down the Valley  - and we saw dark rain clouds to the south and west. So I decided that we'd just cross the Northern tip of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests on twisty roads and have lunch at Wardensville, WV, 21 miles away. I started us off and we didn't go far at all until I got an unmistakable impression in my head: NO. So I turned us around and we had lunch instead at the Apple House in Linden (near Front Royal), a cool old Virginia joint. (See video.) I've passed it on rides a number of times but have never been there. I do believe they must have the biggest and most varied collection of hot sauces in America.

(NOTE: Because the Shenandoah River flows from south to north, going "up" the Valley of Virginia, or against the current, means moving south. This used to confuse me to no end when reading Civil War books. Perhaps the definitive website dealing with which way Virginia rivers run is this one.)

I put 160 miles on my rental Indian Scout yesterday. It's a quick little ride, being lighter than my Suzuki Boulevard but having an engine with twice the horsepower, but it's not for me. Too small. I'm the classic tourer type... taking curves at a high rate of speed? Who needs it? I like rolling along and taking in the scenery. The more different bikes I ride, the more convinced I am that what I want is a Harley Road King.

16 November 2018

I wanted to ride my motorcycle into work this morning, but the pavement was wet and the temperature was 35 degrees. I figured there might be some treacherous icy spots on the road, so I took the car. My suspicions were confirmed when I crossed an icy bridge - the Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) in my VW kept me going straight, but I saw a couple of cars off the road!

Back from Europe: Paris is a motorcycle town! Wherever we went we saw long lines of 500cc and lower motorcycles and scooters parked in line. The big touring bikes were on display near the Gare du Nord, the train station: Honda Goldwings. Parisians also frequently wear vinyl leg covers to keep themselves warm on bikes. At one point, at a light where we crossed, I saw two women - a mother and a daughter, I think - on a scooter. They were so picturesque and so obviously enjoying themselves on a sunny day I wished them a Bonjour and got one in reply. Cool. I saw very few big Harleys - they don't really make sense in Paris. You want small, light and maneuverable. Cari and I decided that if and when we return to Paris we may rent a scooter and see the city that way. It's faster than the Metro and you can literally park anywhere.

29 October 2018

I did a little motorcycle ride yesterday to the area around work in Alexandria, then went into town and then down the George Washington Memorial Parkway. No doubt about it, it's getting cooler! Just after I arrive home it rained, so... good timing.

I need to take my bike into the nearby gas station for the annual safety inspection sticker or it become unlawful to ride in November. No, no, no... can't have that!

25 October 2018

36 degrees and no windshield (removed for a new safety inspection sticker)... it was a zesty ride into work this morning. Despite my heavy gloves my fingertips began to get cold. My legs got cold, too. I wore a scarf, which helped. Thank goodness for my leather jacket - I love that thing. I may just put the liner back in.

It was cold but... I kind of enjoyed it. It's like being in a rugby scrum or waking up in a canvas tent with the water in your canteen frozen: You know you're alive.

And you question your recreational choices.

I had some good telephonic advice from one of my motorcycling mentors last night; the general topic was formation riding. His advice was consonant with my suspicions: don't do it. The big motorcycle event in my neck of the woods (the D.C. suburbs) is the annual Rolling Thunder ride up I-395 into D.C. I sometimes think I'd like to take part some day. My friend - who has been riding for the past 40+ years - says it's scary. He was doing it one year and noticed that all the passengers were waving at the crowds gathered to watch. Then he noticed that most of the riders were waving, too - one hand on the handlebars, thoroughly distracted. Yikes! I think I'll pass. I'm fine with riding with my pal Barry and I'm okay with doing dealership demo day rides where we're all spaced out. (I always build in reaction time space between me and everything else.) But this sounds like it's... well... not my ride.

On Monday I mentioned Ira, a Harley-Davidson salesman I got to know who died in a motorcycle accident recently. Here's his obit. He was a French and Indian War reenactor? Dang, we never had that conversation. Now we never will.

22 October 2018

On Saturday I went to test ride a Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero which I had my eye on at a local dealership. (VIDEO) I have test ridden a Harley-Davidson Road Glide, a bike with a fairing attached to the chassis; the Vaquero is Kawasaki's version of that. Were I in the market for a Road Glide I think I'd choose the Vaquero instead. I prefer its ride and there is a price advantage of thousands of dollars.

After that I drove to the Harley-Davidson dealership in Manassas to test ride a Softail Heritage  (VIDEO). This is the 17th bike I have ridden! I was surprised at how easy and familiar it was to ride. Normally, with one of the models with the touring chassis, I'm a little uncertain about test riding one because it feels bigger, heavier and more solid than what I have (as indeed they are). It's something I'm sure I can get used to, but a test ride on a Road King, a Street Glide or a Road Glide is a somewhat nervous experience because they handle and feel differently than my bike. (And that long, scary legal disclaimer the dealership has you fill out before riding doesn't help!) As soon as I got on the Heritage, however, it felt very much like what I was already used to - except with a lot more torque. (107 cid engine vs. a 50 cid engine.)

The base Softail Heritage and the base Road King vary by about $250. The Road King is better adapted for long rides on freeways and turnpikes, and feels planted, stable and centered. Sort of like a luxury car. The Softail Heritage can also do touring, but is better adapted for shorter rides and being ridden around town. It also feels more nimble. The deciding point, however, is looks. I much prefer the retro look of the Road King (hard saddlebags, chrome headlight nacelle, three lights, clear windshield) to the look of the Softail Heritage (soft saddlebags, lower blacked-out windshield, non-chromed headlight). For me, a Road King is what a motorcycle looks like. What attracted me to the Suzuki Boulevard M50 with the saddlebags I have is that it looks reminiscent or suggestive of a Road King.

Sad story: I went into the Bull Run Harley dealership asking for Ira, the salesman with whom I usually work, a friendly Marine Corps retiree I got to know upon a number of visits. I first met him before I started riding, and would make it a practice of coming in during Friday rides and chatting with him about how I was doing and my plans for upgrading my bike, etc. I got the distinct feeling that this was a person whom I could trust. I was told Saturday that he died in a motorcycle accident riding with his club a month or so ago. I am uncertain of the details but it involved an accident during a type of formation ride, despite the fact that he was an experienced rider - at least, this is what I gathered. It is very sobering news... One thing's for sure: I won't be able to step into that dealership without thinking of this fellow. Actually, he'll probably be on my mind every time I sit on a bike and start riding. 

An old Civil War reenacting cliché comes to mind: "He died doing what he wanted to do." (I have specifically instructed my friends to NOT say that about me if I somehow perished during a battle reenactment!) But in this case I think it's actually true: this motorcyclist died involved in a hobby he loved, surrounded by friends. There are worse ways to go... As I grow older I am increasingly aware of people who die after long, wearing illnesses involving dementia and physical incapacity. Who would choose to go that way? But, as I'm fond of saying, we don't get to choose.

We accept our fate.

Don't we?

19 October 2018

40 degrees this morning - it was a very brisk and cool ride into work on Marva the Motorcycle! Once again, thanks to my heavy leather jacket and gloves I'm fine from the waist up, but my legs get a bit cold. And I think I want a scarf for my neck between the jacket and the helmet.

Black. A black scarf.

The visor fogging problem is back, too... I find myself frequently cracking open the visor. But other than that, it's a fine ride. I'll like it better when daylight savings time ends and the mornings are lighter, however. I miss riding into the sunrise.

Because of a baby shower taking place at my house tomorrow, my wife told me to make myself scarce. Can I do that? Yes. Coleman Powersports in Falls Church is having a demo day tomorrow from 11 to 3, offering test rides on various motorcycles. I hope to ride a Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero (the metric bike answer to the Harley Road Glide) and a Yamaha Star Eluder. Both are possibilities for me, although I'm almost entirely sold on a Harley-Davidson Road King.

18 October 2018

It was a cool morning getting to work on my motorcycle: 54 degrees. I wore my heavy leather jacket so I was fine there, and my heavy gloves. My legs got a little cool. It's very different from commuting during the summer!

From a recent trip to Burbank: Born Free Cycles in Burbank. This is where the TV series Shameless is shot. My daughter and son-in-law watch it. When they found out I could visit they had me take a video.

9 October 2018

Yesterday I did indeed ride out to Harpers Ferry, WV - and Charles Town, WV and Waterford, VA. (VIDEO) Charles Town is named for George Washington's brother, who founded it back when the area was still Virginia. I didn't know that! But you can learn all this and more by watching the video. It was a nice ride... 157 miles.

Back in April when I bought my helmet I told the associate at the motorcycle store that I was planning on my first major ride to Harpers Ferry in the fall. He said, "Oh, you'll be doing rides like that well before October." He was correct. My Antietam ride in June was a longer one. I think my May ride to Front Royal was, too.

Anyway, I have put 4,700 miles on my bike since 31 March. The only real way to learn how to ride a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle. (After appropriate training, of course.)

My pal Bob Avery flew out over the weekend. One of our activities - besides dining for breakfast at a Waffle House - was a visit to the Fairfax (VA) Harley dealership for a Demo Day. (Check out the muffler mini-guns!) I test rode a 2019 Road Glide. Clunk, bang! those Harley transmissions are noisy! I learned that I really don't need a fairing. I still want a Road King. One with the 103 CID twin cam engine, model year between 2014 and 2016. Vivid black, with ABS and cruise control. Under 15,000 miles if possible. This. Anyway, this makes the fifteenth motorcycle besides my own I have ridden, and the sixth Harley. I think next time I'm going to request to ride a Heritage Softail. It's like a Road King, but on a somewhat smaller frame. Annnnd I need to ride an C90T Suzuki Boulevard. A fellow M50 owner is encouraging me to ride one of those before buying a Harley.

1 October 2018

Despite my chest cold I had a great Shenandoah Valley ride on Friday; video here. My reenacting-turned-motorcyclist friend Barry and I met in Front Royal and rode out to Middletown via the Reliance Road. Then we went down the Valley Pike (Route 11) past the Cedar Creek battlefield. Somehow (Barry, please explain) we got from there to Route 42, the scenic Senedo Road which I have never been on, and eventually took a left onto 211, the New Market Road, into New Market. We ate lunch there. After a brief tour of the New Market battlefield, we headed back to Strasburg via the Valley Pike. I went back home to Springfield via Route 55 and I-66. 255 miles! It was my longest one day ride thus far.

It's October 1st. In addition to pumpkin spice-flavored everything appearing in stores (a guy I know wants to see pumpkin spice gasoline), this day represents a full six months of riding Marva, my Suzuki Boulevard ("Bully") M50. Why is this significant? The Hurt Report - yes, that's what it's called, after its creator professor Harry Hurt - is a famous detailed survey of motorcycle injuries and fatalities. As part of my reading and podcast listening I am familiar with the findings of this report. One of its assertions is that most beginner motorcyclists get into an accident in their first six months of riding. That's how it was relayed to me, anyway. But the exact wording is statistically different: "More than half of the accident-involved motorcycle riders had less than 5 months experience on the accident motorcycle, although the total street riding experience was almost 3 years." Hmmm. At any rate I am now past my first six months without accident, having ridden 4,476 miles on my Bully. Hooray!

However, becoming complacent is a major mistake! Getting on a motorcycling means being wary and defensive when riding, continuing to learn, knowing what one's experience and skills limits are and riding within those limits. I think next spring I want to take a follow-up MSF motorcycle safety course. That will better my odds. Won't it?

Into My Third Year...

From this point on my motorcycle content will be in my usual blog .  It has become too clunky to type up text there and then re-post it here...