Monday, June 30, 2008

The After-Crash Jitters

Yamaha FZ6Went riding last Saturday with some folks, including a guy on a sport bike.

This guy had the "after-crash jitters". He's actually a cruiser rider, who crashed his Honda VTX a few months ago. He did so by leaning really hard into a curve, and apparently scraped it hard enough to where he lost traction and low-sided.

That was enough to convince him that he needed a motorcycle with more "scrape angle". So he bought a Yamaha FZ6, which isn't really a typical sportbike, it's more like an all-purpose bike. Not a dual-sport, but something that strikes a middle-ground between a cruiser, sportbike, and tourer.

So I figured "Cool, this guy REALLY want to hit some twisties hard".

But just the opposite. He's now a very cautious, and careful rider.

The ride was to Newcomb's Ranch, a popular hangout along the Angeles Crest Highway, a famed road here in Southern California, that connects the Los Angeles basin with the ski slopes near Wrightwood. It's 55 miles of some of the best riding in the Southland, hundreds of 25-40mph sweepers, no tight hairpin turns. You can hit these curves really hard if you know the road well enough.

Though right now, there's a road closure about halfway up the road. Still, the road is open through Newcomb's Ranch, and it's still an excellent ride if you really like to ride.

This guy on the FZ6 decided to pick up the rear of our group. He did ok on the freeway, but when we jumped on Angeles Crest, he just faded away from sight. I slowed it down to about 40mph, which is well within the comfort range for the average cruiser rider. But I still lost him.

I pulled over to the side, and waited. Some cars eventually passed by, and then several minutes later, he finally showed up.

So I continued on with the group. I pulled over a couple more times along the way, until we finally got to Newcomb's Ranch.

He explained that he had become a "changed" rider. But not so much that he had become an advocate of safe riding, just that he had totally lost his confidence. That crash gave him a really bad case of jitters.

He was shorter than I am, and had difficulty putting his feet on the ground. I stand at 5'8", I'd guess he's about 5'6". The seat height on the FZ6 is 31.3 inches. Compare that to his VTX which was 26.5. He could only get his toes on the ground. I'm not sure that FZ6 was such a smart idea.

I told him, "You sure got a great bike for riding the twisties!".

He said, "But I don't like the twisties. I prefer to stay on the freeway."

I tend to think the freeway is more dangerous.

The guy is a really nice guy. I felt kinda sorry for him. I've had the jitters getting back on a motorcycle after a crash, but those jitters go away after a couple of days. His jitters have been around for way too long, and has had a great impact on where he rides to, and having friends to ride with.

So I told him it's actually a really good idea to tackle a road like Angeles Crest Highway, and to hook up with a group. No better way to confront a demon than to face it head on.

And while I enjoyed hanging out at Newcomb's Ranch with him, his riding is so slow at this point that it becomes detrimental to a group of riders of having to pull over and wait every 10 miles or so. It would be ok if he knew the route well enough to get there on his own. But he doesn't know the roads well enough around here.

He needs to spend more time confronting that demon. I hope that at least having ridden with me last Saturday, along Angeles Crest, some of those jitters went away.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Cruisers versus Sportbikes

1948 Harley Davidson PanheadThe decision to buy a cruiser instead of a sportbike was largely due to a decision by my next-door neighbor. But that decision also has its roots further back into my youth.

What caused you to buy a cruiser or a sportbike, versus the other?

When I was 10 years old, my step-father and I drove his Chevy van from San Diego to Colorado, to pick up his old Harley-Davidson. It was a 1948 Panhead that he rode in his college days of the 1960s. He said he built it himself from junkyard parts he found all over the states of Colorado and New Mexico.

We brought it home and he began the long process of dismantling it, and cleaning it, and replacing some parts. He dismantled it down to every bolt, bracket, and piece that could be separated. I'm still amazed that he could put it all back together without having labeled the parts, or taped the bolts together. He had several coffee cans of bolts, nuts, and washers all thrown loosely together. He knew his bike that well, even after all those years.

I remember the day he reassembled it, mostly with the same parts, but with new paint, a new seat and taillight. He eventually changed out the exhaust, and made a new jockey-shift handle.

The photo above is his rebuilt, and repainted 1948, finished just around the time I graduated high school.

It was that time watching him piece it back together that I developed an interest in classic American motorcycles.

That interest was further cemented when my parents bought me the 1979 Kawasaki KZ400 in 1984. It wasn't anything close to being "classic American", but it was still mine, and I finally had wheels of my own. I wanted to be like my step-father, and learn everything I could about it, take it all apart, and put it back together like he did.

But in those days, riding a motorcycle wasn't a lifestyle for me, nor was it recreation. It was transportation, a way to meet new people, and help me get ahead in life.

Fast forward to 2004. By then I hadn't ridden a motorcycle since 1989. My next door neighbor showed me a Harley-Davidson brochure, and pointed out the Dyna Wide Glide. He said he was going to buy it.

I took at look at the brochure, and then I spotted the Road King with its classic American styling and thought about my step-father's 1948 Panhead. I thought, "yeah, that's what I want". If my neighbor was going to buy a motorcycle, then I'll buy one too, and rekindle those college days when my best friend and I would ride bikes together.

But that's when I saw the Yamaha Road Star, and saw a motorcycle that basically competed against the Road King, offering a lower price, a more powerful engine, and still tons of aftermarket support.

In my college days, and even today, I love riding the motorcycle hard into the canyons and over the mountains. I'm always pushing myself a little bit more each time. I could have easily bought a sportbike if the circumstances of my youth were such. Maybe if my step-father raced motorcycles when he was young, I might have followed suit. Maybe if my neighbor wanted to buy a sportbike, I might have gone that direction too.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Smell of Ocean Air

A friend and I took an evening ride today to Carlsbad, to grab some chow at the Harbor Fish Cafe, one of my favorite eats.

We came off of La Costa Ave and right on to Pacific Coast Highway, heading north.

I really love this area because you're hit with this smell of salty ocean air, and the cool breeze blowing at your left side.

Being this was around 6:30pm at the time, for the next several miles, the sea air was combined with the smell of barbeques and campfires.

I wondered where were the smells of roasted marshmallows?

There was a point where I could smell weenies roasting.

Smelling the air is something you don't get in a car.

I took the photo above while I was riding, but too bad because the photo is really awful, and doesn't do justice at how beautiful the scene was. The setting sun was able to find enough cracks in the cloud layer to send some rays down on the water's surface.

My friend riding with me was the same guy that crashed his bike a month ago (I wrote about him here). He didn't have his windshield on because he broke it in the crash. But now he likes riding without it much better.

He said, "This is what I really love about riding without a windshield, cruising up the coast at a moderate pace, the cool wind in my face, smelling the ocean air".

Yeah, me too.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kawasaki KZ400 My First Bike

I found a website dedicated to my first motorcycle, the Kawasaki KZ400...

Here's a photo I found from that website...

Kawasaki KZ400
My bike looked exactly like this one, same paint, same pin striping, same everything.

And no, I don't have it anymore. And yes, I wish I still had it.

These days, I've developed a greater appreciation for motorcycles old and new. But back then, in the mid-80s, it was mostly my means of transporation, and not so much something I loved.

My best friend back then had a KZ450, and he and I spent many a moment riding together to the pool hall, to the beach, to college, and just anywhere else we wanted to go. Riding motorcycles together as part of our daily lives brought us closer together as friends. It was that bonding that led me to finding a club to ride with when I got back to riding again.

I remember in my college days taking girls out on dates. Some of them took an interest in me just because of the bike. And we're not even talking Harley here, or cruiser, or even custom. We're talking a lightweight standard metric.

My KZ400 came to me as a third-hand bike, a 1979 model year. The previous owner crashed in a pretty serious accident that left him with an amputated leg. The gas tank was dented on both sides. Otherwise, that was the only damage to the bike. He had in storage for a couple of years.

It was in 1984 that my parents bought it for me as my high-school graduation gift. My step-father had a pretty good knowledge of engines and a good grasp of mechanics. He showed me how to take the engine apart, clean it all up, and put it back together. It wasn't until the following year that it was running, and I had learned how to ride it.

In those days I was in the habit of pulling the carburetor off, adjusting the needle, and even taking the whole carburetor apart, cleaning the parts, and putting it all back together. I would pull the head off and adjust the slack in the cam-shaft chain. I'd replace the drive chain and adjust the slack. I bought and installed new starter motors, rewired the cables, changed the fluid in the forks, and did everything myself.

These days, I've become a chicken-shit when it comes to doing my own wrenching. I'll do the oil and filter changes, and only recently started doing the tire changes and brake pad changes. I'm not sure what it is with me these days.

I remember one time, pulling the carburetor off, taking it all apart, readjusting it, and then putting it back on. The starter motor wasn't working at the time, so I had to use the kick-starter. I must have kicked it for a good 30 minutes, before it finally started. The only reason why I kicked it for that long was because I was confident it would eventually start.

But today, I don't have a clue anymore. I don't know if something is screwed up or not. It just goes to show how much I've lost touch with my mechanical ability.

My friend Brian does all his own work on his Harleys. So I'm trying to make an effort to do the same. I know I can do it, I just don't feel like doing it, and I've just lost confidence in my ability.

Something in back of mind tells me that if I had my old KZ400 back, I'd be tinkering with it, and reconnect with that old me again.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Motorcycles and Courthouse Parking

I had to report to jury duty today.

Interestingly, they wanted me to report in the afternoon rather than the morning.

So I got to the courthouse in downtown Riverside, and rode my motorcycle into the parking structure. I wasn't exactly sure how I was supposed to fix my parking pass to my windshield, since I ride without one on my Road Star. But I assumed the parking attendant would tell me where I could "stick it".

As it turned out, the courthouse parking structure lets motorcycles park for free, no parking pass required.

But the motorcycle parking section was crammed full of motorcycles. I had to park in a striped zone, which is presumably off-limits for parking. I walked over to the parking attendant and asked if it was ok, and he said it fine.

So I walked into the jury room, checked in, and took my seat to begin the long process of waiting.

Meanwhile, a woman spoke over the loudspeaker, "If you live in Temecula, Murrieta or Menifee, you should instead have your jury duty reassigned to the Southwest Courthouse". That angered me, because I live in Menifee. I wondered why in the Hell did they have me report here, if they obviously had my address?

Then the woman continued on over the loudspeaker, "Unless you have a motorcycle".

WTF? How in the Hell did they know I have a motorcycle?

As it turned out, they didn't know. They were just too lame to check my address and print the correct Courthouse on my jury summons.

And as it turned out, she was just joking about the motorcycle.

But considering the parking structure was jammed with cars, and the price of gas here in SoCal is already at $4.50 a gallon, making sure that people report to their closest courthouse has become a big concern for them.

I still don't understand why their computer system can't automatically figure out the closest courthouse I should have reported to, considering they have my address.

And as it turned out, they dismissed me from service because I'm self-employed.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Write Your Own Rally Cry

I was reading through all the rally cries posted on Harley's "Screw it, let's ride" website... id=hdredirect&urlvar=screwit

Here's one of my favorites, from Efnar, from California...
Over the last .5 years in the saddle, I've seen triceratops statues, but every time this country has come out stronger than before. Because ancient swamps put distance between me and the emptiness in my soul. Freedom and wind outlast hard times. And the rumble of the Earth drowns out all the screams of the burning peasents. If .5 years have proved one thing, it's that road rash is avoidable. So screw it, let's ride.
This sounds so stupid because of the way Harley set up the website. Instead of writing in your own words, you fill in the blanks.

Is writing all that difficult for bikers?

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Back from Santa Maria Ride

The Deer Lodge, Ojai, CAGot back home yesterday from my ride up to Santa Maria and back.

It was just Brian and I that went on the ride.

Here's a map of the route... 2008/05/santa-maria-overnight-ride.html

I posted my photos here... SantaMariaRideMay312008

Here are the highlights...

  • Big Pines Highway - Wrightwood to Valyermo (maplink) - Another killer motorcycle ride of SoCal - Mountain scenery, alpine forests, lakes, switchbacks, sweepers, what else can I say?

  • Soledad Canyon Rd - Palmdale to Canyon Country (maplink) - I've never ridden this road before. It's a nice road, well suited for novice riders yearning to find a challenge. Nothing tight, just wide sweepers and some good scenery.

  • Vince's Coffee Shop, Santa Paula, CA (maplink) - tiny little cafe offering mostly Mexican fare. Had a taco and Sprite. You sit outside on the main drag, and watch the motorcycles ride by. Makes for a nice afternoon break.

  • Highway 150 - Santa Paula to Carpinteria (maplink) - Mostly an easy road to ride with some really tight, hairpin curves just before you get into Ojai. There's some really great scenery along Lake Casitas, where the road features some fast sweepers.

  • Highway 192 - Carpinteria to Santa Barbara (maplink) - This road shows you where all the money ends up in Southern California, with views of the most luxurious mansions in Santa Barbara, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands.

  • Highway 154 - Santa Barbara to Solvang (maplink) - Not very twisty, but some decents. The main attract here is the Cold Springs Tavern, and views of Lake Cachuma.

  • Solvang, CA (maplink) - A tourist town built on a Dutch theme. Stopped here for some coffee and jalapeno cheese bread.

  • Cool Hand Luke's, Santa Maria, CA (website link) - A western-style restaurant and bar. Drank a few beers and had steak dinners. Then watched Kimbo Slice in his UFC fight to see if he'd win. As suspected, he won, considering the UFC is banking so much money on this guy.

  • Highway 166 - Santa Maria to New Cuyama (maplink) - This road's biggest claim to fame was that it took the life of Hollywood legend James Dean. Otherwise, it's a pretty easy road to ride, all wide sweepers, with some great views of canyons and mountain peaks.

  • New Cuyama, CA (maplink) - Neat little town, barely any people there, except for a gas station and a coffee shop. Always lots of motorcycles parked at the coffee shop, seems to be a great place to stop between Bakersfield and Santa Maria.

  • Cerro Noroeste Rd - Highway 166 to Pine Mountain Club (maplink) - Rated as one of my all time favorite roads of Southern California. Very twisty, mostly wide to tight sweepers, only a few switchbacks. It's a dangerous road considering there are no signs advising the speed of each curve. Awesome views of the valley. Lots of motorcycles riding this road.

  • The Screaming Squirrel Restaurant & Mad Bailey's Pub, Pine Mountain Club, CA (maplink) - I suppose what the Screamin' Chikin is to Devore, the Screaming Squirrel is to Pine Mountain Club, except with not as many bikers (probably because you have to endure some twisties to get there). The food is here is pretty good, just the standard American fare. It's really upstairs where you want to hang out, the English style pub, with some really cold beer.

  • Lockwood Valley Rd - Lake of the Woods to Highway 33 - (maplink) - Mostly a leisurely ride, but there is a stretch running through some mountains and canyons that gets really twisty, some 10-15mph curves, and a few places where water runs over the road. Otherwise, the kind of road where you want to slow it down to 55mph and enjoy the landscape.

  • Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway - Lockwood Valley Rd to Ojai (maplink) - Otherwise known as Highway 33, this stretch is arguably the top motorcycle ride in Southern California, if not, definitely in the top three. There is a 17 mile descent from the top of Pollard Point down into Wheeler Gorge, that is absolutely wicked, just an endless series of tight sweepers that'll have you leaning left and right more times than John McCain on a campaign speech.

  • The Deer Lodge, Ojai, CA (maplink) - The best way to end one a ride along the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway is a stop for beer at The Deer Lodge. Brian and I had a couple of bottles of his home brewed beer (he brought along his own concoction), and we hung out and listened to some pretty good live blues. The smell of BBQ'd pig wafting through the air added the final touch to this biker experience.

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About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)