Friday, January 30, 2009

Riding for Margaritas & Mexican Food

Yesterday I led my weekly "Thursday Ride", this time to Palm Springs for some lunch and margaritas at Las Casuelas Terraza, a popular mexican restaurant in downtown.

I had it posted on my Meetup group, and got 15 people to come out, including myself. A few of the people were those I had never met before, along with one guy I hadn't ridden with for a long time, and one gal recovering from a bad bout of stomach virus.

I wasn't sure about taking Hwy 243 along the Santa Rosa Mountains. There was a ton of snow there a few weeks ago, and I expected the roads would be covered with sand. A few of the guys with us I didn't know, and a few others I had only ridden with once or twice. But I decided to take it anyways.

Prior to leaving I gathered the group together and advised them there would be sand, and to watch the road carefully. When we got to Hwy 243, just north of Idyllwild, sure enough sand. It was everywhere. There were some steep downgrades that carried you into some 20mph curves, with water draining from the melting snow. I slowed myself down, and then hoped everyone else had the caution to do so.

There was sand pretty much the entire distance, down to where the highway ended in Beaumont.

At the end of Hwy 243, I pulled over and stopped and waited for all the bikes to catch up. There were a few missing. But after a few minutes, I saw them coming. Whew! I felt relieved.

We got into Palm Springs, and got seated in the outside patio. Temperatures were in the upper 70s, and nothing but blue skies. Felt really good.

I got to hear some stories from some of the folks...

Rick, a new guy, is a refugee from the local HOG chapter. He went on and on about the drama in HOG, the cliques, the royalty, and how on every ride the HOG chapter is always asking for money. Complained that all they wanted to do were poker runs and benefit rallies. He was going broke just riding with those guys, and wanted to find a group who only cared about riding just for the fun of riding.

Art, another new guy, lives in a nudist colony. Apparently, he's knows of several swinging riding clubs in the area, it's a growing trend here in SoCal apparently. I don't know if these are riding clubs who like to swing, or swinging clubs who like to ride. I tend to think its the latter, where bikers and biker chicks are some kind of fetish.

Ray, I hadn't ridden with him for a long time. He's a retired air traffic controller. The FAA requires controllers to require at age 55. However due to the budget problems, the FAA has encouraged many older controllers to retire early, and gave them plenty of incentives. Apparently, many of them took up the offer. Now, there's a shortage of air traffic controllers. So they've had to hire a bunch of new recruits. So they're hiring the retired controllers to do the training. Ray will be one such trainer. He still gets to keep his full retirement, and earn more money.

Lois, is just recovering from a bad stomach virus. She hasn't been able to keep her food down for a week. But yesterday was her first "real" food. She started off with a margarita, chips and salsa, before digging into her combination plate. And after the ride, she relaxed with the rest of us over some beers. Seems she was feeling pretty good. Later on she chalked it up to the "therapy of riding". I told her it was just "mind over matter", by simply focusing her attention on the road, and not on her sick stomach. Plus, breathing in the soot flying from the highway also helps to kill the virus.

I was full from my carnitas burrito. And that giant sized margarita really hit the spot. I kept the group at the restaurant for about 2 hours just because I didn't want to leave. It felt so good to be there with warm weather, great company, and good food.

And if that wasn't good enough, the waiter assumed we all wanted separate checks, and just did it that way.

At the end of the ride, we stopped at my favorite tavern in Temecula, and found the outdoor patio completely open for us. I sipped down an Alesmith IPA. and we just all sat around and told jokes.

It was a great day.

Here's the ride map...


View Larger Map


And here's some photos...

At the end of Hwy 243, in Beaumont, CA, waiting for everyone to catch up.


Al's Road Glide Super Screamer, with an S&S 124ci motor, two-into-one exhaust


Nick and his HD Rocker


In the distance, Big Bear Mountain with snow caps.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Sitting Up Straight On a Motorcycle

Spent the afternoon yesterday practicing my U-turns at this college parking lot. My buddy Brian came out with me to practice his braking.

I've been wanting to get to a point where I can lock the handle bars all the way in one direction, and effect a full circle, in a smooth and graceful manner. Just like the cops. I've practiced this before, and was able to do some tight circles, though still not with locked handle bars all the way around. Plus I wasn't leaning enough, and I wasn't exactly smooth and graceful. I even caught myself putting my foot on the ground when things got too wobbly.

But today, I think learned something. Sitting up straight gives me more reach. On my Ultra Classic, I've always sat in a slouched position whereever I ride, and in the past I've practiced my slow-speed turns in that position as well. Slouching makes it more difficult for me to reach the handle bars when they're locked all the way in one direction. For whatever reason, I feel more relaxed when trying to make those turns.

After being used to sitting slouched on a bike, sitting up straight tends to feel like I'm riding someone else's bike, where I know how to ride it but it all seems new.

Later, Brian and I decided to switch bikes. He has an Ultra Classic also, the same year, 2005. But the front end felt lighter on his. It was like I had total control in turning the bike; it responded completely to my input. Interestingly, Brian said that when he turned the handle bars on my bike, the bike wanted to lean, which perhaps is a good thing or bad, depending. I think it was a round-about way of saying the front end felt heavier on my bike, and that it was trying to dictate what to do. I'm assuming we have the same front end, with all the same parts. And have the same Dunlop tires.

So I don't know.

But I think I learned something about riding a bike today; it helps to sit up straight.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Choose a Road and Follow It

riding motorcycles into the sunsetChantele writes on her blog that life as a scrapbooking, motorcycle-riding mommy is nothing what she had originally planned...
I mean come on, who in their right minds ever thought I would end up creating scrapbook kits and riding motorcycles? Definitely NOT me or anyone that knew me. Honestly I never wanted to get married or have kids. I wanted to be the type of person that allowed my career to take me everywhere I wanted to go and I didn't care who I had to step on to get there....
Each of us started out with an idea of where we wanted to go in our lives, but the road we travelled down always took us somewhere else.

One of the favorite pasttimes my wife and I had years ago was finding a major avenue or boulevard, and following it until it ended. Sometimes it would take us a few miles, but sometimes it went for 25-30 miles.

It would take us into towns and communities that we never ventured into, and we'd point out interesting shops and stores passing us by. Wherever the road ended, we'd find a restaurant and have dinner there.

One particular road we explored led us to a neighborhood with brand new homes being built. We stopped to look at the model homes. We had a lot of fun. Over the next several weeks, we took up a new hobby of touring model homes all over that region. We questioned if maybe the time was right to sell that cramped condo and get us a real house. That's how we found the home we live in today, by choosing a road and following it.

My parents divorced when I was seven. I was an only child. My father was a sailor in the Navy, and as it was I hardly saw him anyways. Both my father and mother ended up remarrying to different people, and had new sons all over again. Had my parents stayed together I might not have harbored this frustration for having lost my family and becoming the jealous step-child. I wouldn't be the angry, opinionated, motorcycle rider I am today.

And the road would not have brought me to my wife of 19 years, to the career path I ventured down, to this home that we bought, to this small business that we started, to the motorcycles I now own, to the friends I have today. But yet I look around me and I feel blessed.

Of course, I could have had all those same things had my parents remained in love and raised me in a happier disposition. But then, what difference does it make? I'm happy now.

Just a couple of days ago Joker pointed out that in his riding club, a riding plan must be planned out in detail and cannot be changed by anyone but the road captain. And if a road captain isn't there, the ride is off. But in our riding club, we come up with a plan, start down that direction, and then let the road throw its ideas at us.

You might decide to steer your motorcyle down a specific road, and you might have decided where you'll eat lunch, where you'll get gas, and where you'll take a pee, but you'll never really know what you'll get until you ride it.

But what you do know is that you have some good riding buddies, and plenty of good sunshine.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dropping a Ducati

I've always enjoyed reading Dylan Weiss' blog "Twisting Asphalt", where he describes his thoughts while piloting his fleet of Ducati motorcycles across the roads of Southern California.

He has this artistic way of expressing his thoughts and feelings of riding Italian-made machines through the canyons and mountains. Even though I've ridden the same roads many times myself, his unique way of crafting together words and phrases makes me wonder if there was something about those roads that I had failed to see...
"Forty-five minutes later I'm taking a mellow stroll down a quaint if not quiet canyon road while basking in that uniquely Ducati inspired sense of time and place and purpose. From the road, to the ride, to the sense of life that surrounds it, I feel certain that I'm destined to be here. To live life in this particular moment. When the world finally feels like it's turning true once again. "
That's not anything one can write only from a darkened office behind a computer keyboard. One has to experience the feeling of racing up the back of an asphalt laden snake slithering across the chaparral and sage brush of the California outback. But does one have to ride a Ducati to find such artful words and phrases? Or can a Harley rider like me still convince the wind and road to release such inspiration?

I was interested to learn that Dylan crashed his bike just a week ago. He says it was his first crash. And apparently it was just a matter of not seeing the sand in the road. Perhaps his mind was gathering literary material from the elements, or perhaps it was that spattering of shadow and sunlight cast from the trees that seemed to mesmerize.

Southern California is a desert landscape marked by ranges of mountains and hills, and when the Winter rains come in, it carves out canyons and washes. From there the water carries sand and silt towards the roadways. Pools of water collect in the corners of cambered curves. As they evaporate, they leave behind patches of sand. Even if you're watching the road carefully, you're still left rolling the dice as you're leaning into a blind curve.

For me, it's a humbling experience each time I crash my bike. Stuff like sand and water in the road always grabs my attention, and if I have to navigate through enough of that stuff it makes me wonder if I'm even having fun anymore. But eventually Summer comes around, the sand and water goes away, and gone with them are the memories of Winter riding.

Perhaps in other parts of the country the Winter weather and road conditions are so bad that folks just don't bother riding at all. But Winter time in Southern California still has plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s. The days are so great that riders are beckoned to brave the roads, sandy curves and all. And henceforth comes a crash like Dylan's.

So with his first motorcycle accident under his belt, I wonder if it will add some bit of dimension to the thoughts he composes into binary form. The road always collects its dues from each rider. I think about the accidents that I have had in my years of riding, and everytime I ride they are fresh on my mind. They affect they way I now ride a motorcycle.

And one thing I realize now, is that those accidents have also affected the thoughts I express.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Changing Someone's Riding Plan

My friend Mike is just getting started in homebrewing, and suggested to our riding club that we do a ride to the homebrewing store in San Diego.

Part of the lure for this ride is that the homebrewing store is connected to a brewery that offers tastings. Only a few of us could resist.

He had worked out a route that would take us there, and afterwards, lead us along some scenic canyon and mountain roads to a restaurant in Ramona that he had heard about on television. Then, some more twisty riding back home.

We got to the homebrewing store too early! They opened at 12:00pm, and we were there at 11:30am. My buddy Brian suggested we keep on riding, perhaps going out to the coast and seeing the ocean.

Since I did a lot of growing up in San Diego, I led everyone out to the national cemetery on Point Loma. There we could take in some fresh ocean air and gaze at the city skyline, and see the tombstones of soldiers who served in the Spanish American War. We probably wasted about an hour total.

So we finally got back to the homebrewing store around 12:30pm. Then we all got several rounds of beer samples, and talked to great lengths over the differences between centennial hops and columbia hops, how roasted malt gives a porter its burnt flavor, and how aerating your fermentation works better than just shaking it. Stuff I don't totally comprehend.

It was around 1:30pm by the time we got out of there.

And my friend Brian, who also happens to be a homebrewer, had been wanting to visit the Coronado Brewing Company, and I know they happen to serve up great food. And by this time we were all really hungry. The ride to Ramona for lunch was still another 90 minutes away. Just didn't want to wait that much longer for food.

So he and I convinced Mike to change his plans by having lunch at Coronado Brewing Company. He agreed. So off we went, up and over the Coronado Bay Bridge, where we got stellar views of the San Diego Bay, and then over to the Coronado Brewing Company where we drank more craft brews, and stuffed our bellies rotten.

By the time we got out of there, it was WAY too late for us to do the route back home that Mike had originally planned.

I remember a few years ago when we did something like this before, where one guy worked out what he thought was a great route through some great roads, only to have the rest of us decide to change his plans, just because it sounded good. And that got that guy pissed off. Just pissed him off that we would suggest doing something different from what he had planned.

So today, I chose to compliment Mike for suggesting that we visit the homebrewing store, because if it weren't for that we would not have visited a national cemetery, enjoyed the great views of the city skyline, breathed in some ocean air, rode over the Coronado Bay Bridge, and then finish it off with some great food and beer at the Coronado Brewing Company. And then I apologized for trashing his original ride plan.

Mike seemed to take it really well.

Not that Mike's original plan wasn't good. It sounds really good actually. It's just that sometimes things work out much differently in reality than when you plan it out in your mind.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Riding Off To A Better Place

Riding Off To A Better PlaceI didn't know Willy all that well, but he seemed like a good guy.

Of the few times that I rode with him, and talked to him, he seemed like a guy who didn't ask for much, and at the same time didn't expect to be asked much of.

"All I ever wanted was to be free,
And that's the way it turned out be."
  - Jim McGuinn


I remember years ago, when I was just a teenager, I was teaching my little brother how to play with his new toy. It was a plastic box with odd-shaped holes cut into the sides, and it came with plastic pieces designed to fit into these holes. The goal was to put the round piece into the round hole, and the square piece into the square hole, etc.

I showed him that there was a way to force the triangular-shaped piece into the square-shaped hole if you used some ingenuity, and some elbow grease. It took awhile, and I had to squeeze the piece, but I finally got it through the hole. I don't know if my brother learned anything from watching me.

I sometimes wonder if Willy was a triangular-shaped piece that spent his whole life being forced into odd-sized holes. In reality, none of us ever finds ourselves fitting into this world seamlessly; we're always having to accommodate and tolerate. It's a contest of how well you can adapt and outsmart, and never about being yourself. After so many years you grow weary, and wonder if there's a better place.

They say that opposites attract. But a free spirit never resists. It just finds the path of least resistance, until finally there's no where to go.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poor Economy = More Riders?

Last Thursday I had a ride put together through my Meetup Group to get some lunch at Callahan's Pub & Brewery in Mira Mesa. As it turned out, we had something like 17 bikes, and about 22 people show up for the ride. We had a great time.

After we got there, one of the things we talked about was that when the economy goes bad, people ride their motorcycles more often.

This was probably our largest group of riders ever assembled on our Thursday rides, and that naturally got several us commenting about it. I joked that with the way our economy is going, we'll probably be seeing more people riding on Thursdays. That is, people have time to ride when they're not working.

Interestingly, some of the people that showed up for the ride today are recently unemployed, or they're business owners who have very little business right now. It's not easy getting by these days. And that touched off a conversation that when things get tough, people want to jump on their bikes and let the wind blow their troubles away.

While I'm not necessarily sure that so many people came out to ride on a Thursday just because of the bad economy, it's perhaps a thought I should file away in the back of my mind, and see if a pattern emerges throughout this year.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Motorcycling Ain't What It Used To Be

Deuce Bronder wrote yesterday in his column...

I can't help myself from mourning the loss of what motorcycling once was. In those days we would leave on an overnighter or gypsy tour with just a ground cover and a blanket.

Now hotel reservations are made in advance and only after searching the web to be sure there is a pool, Jacuzzi, wet bar in the room, a masseuse and complimentary cocktails on the veranda.
He finishes his article by telling all such motorcyclists to stay far, far away from him.

I'm not so sure that motorcycling is really any different than it is now. He goes on to complain that bikers need to pack their cell phones and laptops, but then again, nobody had these devices in the 1960s. Is he saying that in the 1960s not a single biker ever packed a transistor radio? Is he saying that in 1960s, not a single biker ever overnighted at a motor lodge?

Just because cell phones weren't around in the 1960s, doesn't mean bikers would not have wanted one.

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)