Saturday, May 30, 2009

I Was Feeling Pretty Good

"I was feeling pretty good" is a phrase I've been hearing lately amongst folks I've ridden with the past few weeks, and I heard it again today.

And it's usually a phrase I hear after that person crashes.

Except today, no one crashed.

Today I was feeling good. There were five of us taking a joy ride down the back roads of San Diego County, on our way to Callahan's Pub. The weather has been unusually mild the past week, making temperatures ideal for t-shirt riding. Warm, not too hot, not too cold.

That perhaps lead to me feeling pretty good.

So I cranked the throttle a little bit along Couser Canyon Rd, a really tight twisty road in northern San Diego County. Actually, I wasn't going all that fast, not enough to drag my boards. But still fast enough to where I could get into a zone, and still have attention to spare for the cooler air, and the smell of the outdoors.

Here and there, the road takes us up and down hills and blind curves. I get to a to the crest of a hill, and I think, "Hmmm, should I slow down because I can't see the road on the other side of the crest? Or, should I just roll the dice, and stay on the throttle, and see what the road gives me on the other side?"

I opted to stay on the throttle. I wasn't really sure if on the other side of the crest the road was going to turn, because this road is a very twisty road; there's just turns everywhere. I get up over the crest, and sure enough there was a turn to the right. But it was an easy turn. I rolled the dice and got lucky.

But that's just part of "feeling good". You just keep pushing it, because you feel just a little invincible and you want to keep that good feeling going. It's a way of expressing the idea of, "Fuck it", which itself is just one aspect in the overall pursuit of motorcycle enjoyment.

A friend of mine recently expressed that very same scenario, of approaching the crest of a hill, not knowing what the road is going to do on the other side, but keeping on the throttle and reacting afterwards. When he described it to me, I understood the feeling he was trying to convey.

Yesterday, the very same friend described to me how he almost wrecked his motorcycle earlier this week. He actually was in the process of crashing, his rear tire had lost traction and the bike was sliding out of control. He struck the center median, which is just a strip of raised concrete, and that actually righted the motorcycle to where he regained control.

But what he said to me was, "I don't know, I should have already learned my lesson from the last crash, but I was just feeling good".

And then last weekend, we had a gal in our group lose control of her bike and crashed. She normally rides at a safe moderate pace. But that day, she jumped out from the back of the pack, and sped up to the front, on a narrow two-lane road, and proceeded to take the twisties at a somewhat fast pace.

We were quite amazed. We had no idea she had this ability bottled up inside her. But she finally came to a curve she couldn't handle at that speed. Instead of just leaning the bike hard, she opted to hit her rear brake hard. She locked up her rear wheel, and spun out of control. She came out ok, a few scrapes was about it. But she said to us, "I don't know guys, I was just feeling really good".

On the way back home today, we headed up Rice Canyon Rd, another narrow and twisty road. And I was still feeling pretty good, and I pushed the bike at speeds of 50mph along curves rated for 25-30mph. But I've ridden that road so many times, and I know it pretty well. Knowing that road so well allows me to ride it that fast.

At the end of the ride, seated around the table drinking beers, one of the guys says, "Steve, you must have been feeling pretty good today".

Sometimes you ride a motorcycle because it makes you feel good. Other times you start out feeling good, and the motorcycle just exacerbates it.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

No Money, No Funny

Haven't been able to ride as often as I normally do, due to money.

Seems we have a credit card balance that went crazy. I'd like to blame it on the wife, but the fact is that I'm just as guilty, spending money on luxuries. So I said we each have to sacrifice something to save up money and get this debt paid off.

I decided to cut my joy riding in half, which not only consists of buying gasoline, but buying food and drink, and the maintenance costs associated with riding.

She's giving up going out to breakfast every morning.

I'm just doing one ride a week now. Normally, I'd take a day or two off during the week to go riding. Since I work at home, and work for myself, and don't have clients to answer to, it's giving me freedom to jump on the bike. But for now, I'm here at home working from morning to morning.

While I'm not riding during the week, my friends still are.

And here the days are beautiful in Southern California. They're riding up to Big Bear, or riding out to Palm Springs, and just today they rode out to the coast for some pizza.

I get to hear about how great the ride went, see the photos, and hear about the food.

And then today, another friend of mine invited me on a ride up to San Francisco, leaving this morning and coming back Saturday, with stops in Monterey, Sacramento, Yosemite, and back home. I just love those spontaneous overnighters, and hanging out at some bar far from home, drinking down brews with a buddy.

For a moment I wondered how I could justify this ride to my wife. I even imagined her sympthazing with me, and forgetting about this debt that we have to pay off. I thought maybe she'd tell me that I should go, because after all, this is my thing, riding motorcycles. But I also imagined her calling me a hypocrite, particularly after I yelled at her for going out to IHOPs and Denny's every morning for breakfast.

So I just said "no", I can't make it.

Other guys in our riding club mentioned feeling the pinch. One guy said he'd prefer to pack a lunch, and then stop at some park after a long ride. Another person mentioned that there's nothing wrong with hitting up a fast food joint. Personally, I love fast food. We get coupons in the mail all the time.

Another buddy of mine is planning a coast to coast ride this Summer, but has already expressed concern due to shortage of funds. It's been his dream to do this ride, but yet he says he's walking on eggshells trying to keep the wife from throwing a fit.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Running Out of Gas On A Motorcycle

harley davidson ultra classic electra glideOn my way back home from a motorcycle trip to the Grand Canyon last weekend, I found myself running out of gas.

The engine sputtered as I tried to milk it for as long as I could. I used the brakes to jerk the bike around to get the gas to slosh around.

The engine died while I was in motion, and I pulled in the clutch handle to coast, hitting the start button to get the engine to turn over. It started back up, and I was able to ride for a little bit more, but it petered out again.

With the clutch lever pulled in again, coasting along, I hit the start button again, trying to get it to start, but it wouldn't start. I was losing momentum. I gave up hitting the start button, and just rode it until it came to a stop.

Fortunately for me, I came to a stop about 50 feet from a gas station. I hopped off, and pushed it over to a pump.

You could say it was luck that I stopped so close to a gas station, but then again I already knew the fuel range on my Electra Glide Ultra Classic. I knew I could make it back to civilization after my previous fuel stop, otherwise I would not have put myself into that situation.

But it also requires a little planning to know what the mileage is between this fuel stop and your next.

I ended up doing 195 miles total before running out of gas. And that's somewhat low for the Ultra Classic. It's a 2005 model, with the stock 88ci engine, and a 5.0 gallon tank. I usually get about 40-45 miles per gallon, so I knew I should have gotten at least 200 miles range.

But riding back home on the I-10, I was pushing it between 85-90mph, which I knew was going to cut my fuel range a little short. And then while riding through the Coachella Valley, I was fighting a head wind. So, 195 miles is probably pretty good considering those factors.

My previous gas stop was in Vidal, which is just an intersection of Hwy 95 and 62 in an otherwise empty Mojave Desert of southeastern California.

I was actually riding a more conservative 70-75mph after that gas stop, and had I kept it at that pace, I would've made it home. But as soon I jumped on to the interstate, I chose to ramp up the speed. I think it was the 100+ degree temperatures through the desert, making me want to get home more quickly.

So after pushing my bike to the gas pump, I filled it back up, and checked the pump. I pumped in 5.4 gallons. And Harley says it's a 5.0 gallon tank?

The farthest I've gone on a single tank of gas on this Ultra Classic is 205 miles. And I still could have gone further.

On my trip to Utah last month, we had a guy with us who said he typically refills his tank at around 120 miles. He figures his bike has a top range of about 160 miles. He rides a Honda Shadow 750. So on one leg of the trip, we found ourselves choosing between refilling at 100 miles, or opting to ride on and refilling at 160 miles. We decided to ride on for the 160 mile fill-up. But we kept our speed at a modest 70-75mph.

And the thing is that he didn't know what we were planning to do. That is, the rest of us were planning this out via CB radio, while riding our bikes. This guy was one of the few that didn't have a CB. He was shitting bricks after we passed by the sign that said, "Next gas 60 miles".

But when we got to the gas station, that guy still had a fair amount of gas in his tank, and he figured he probably could have gone about 180 miles. It just goes to show that you'll never know what your motorcycle is capable of doing until you push it beyond your comfort level.

I'd like to hear your "running out of gas on a motorcycle" stories...

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

How to Ride a Motorcycle With No Hands

riding a motorcycle without touching handle barsTo the motorcyclist, Southern California is a mecca of awesome roads for riding. But to get out of Southern California, a rider must traverse through a 100+ miles of hot, boring desert.

Riding through horizon after horizon of straight road in triple-digit temperatures tests the patience of any rider. It becomes a question of how to keep oneself mentally entertained.

And so I decided to practice riding without holding the handle bars.

Admittedly, there's a little bit of arrogance in doing this, because other motorists will look at you with interest, and you just love knowing that you've captured their interest.

But it's also a lesson in getting over the fear of riding. Once you've come to understand that a moving motorcycle always wants to keep moving forward, it opens up a new set of possibilities in testing the limits of what can be done riding a motorcycle in this manner.

From Chiriaco Summit to Blythe, along the I-10 of California's lower Mojave Desert, is about 60 miles of mostly straight freeway. I tried to ride the entire distance without touching the handle bars.

Here and there, the freeway does make turns, very wide turns that don't require any slowing down.

I could make the bike turn simply by using body english to make the bike lean to one side. Once you've got that part figured out, you can pretty much ride for as long as you have gas in the tank.

On my Electra Glide Ultra Classic, I found it easier to kick my feet up on to the lower-fairing, and then recline back so that my hands rest on the passenger hand rails. By pulling on one of the hand rails, I found it easier to make the bike lean.

Not only that, but it makes my back feel a lot better. It's like sitting in a recliner, and using your body as a joy stick while playing a car race video game.

I discovered my bike always wants to drift to the right.

I think it's mostly due to the camber of the road. The road is not perfectly flat. That is, each side of the road is angled slightly, allowing water to drain off to the side. I think that's why the bike drifts.

Other factors include side winds, or not having cargo evely distributed, or even not sitting perfectly center on the seat.

I also discovered that I can ride the motorcycle without touching the handle bars, and go over bumps with no problem. Like I said above, a moving motorcycle always wants to keep moving forward. Even if you were to hit a pretty sharp bump, the tires might leave the ground, you might bounce around, but the inertia will keep the bike on a forward path.

My motorcycle has cruise control, which of course makes riding without hands possible. You could do it with a throttle lock, but the cruise control adds the feature of being able to trim your speed. The "+" and "-" button on the controls allows you to speed up or slow down without having to touch the throttle itself.

I noticed that when I increase my speed, the bike tends to straighten up and stay in a straight line. But when I maintain speed, then it'll start drifting to the right.

Passing a semi-truck will cause the bike to drift away from the truck. That is, when passing it by, the wind that bounces off the front of the truck will push against the side of the bike, and force my bike to drift off course. And so, I have to add some heavy "body english" to counter act.

So while I tried to ride the entire 60 miles between Chiriaco Summit and Blythe without touching the handle bars, I found I couldn't do it. There were places along the way where the side wind was great enough that it blew me too hard towards the other lane that I had to grab the handle bar to correct my path. There were also places where traffic slowed down enough that it became too dangerous to ride that way.

But still, I probably did something like 58 of those 60 miles without touching the handle bars, I just couldn't do 58 continuous miles.

How many miles have you been able to do?

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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...)