Monday, November 30, 2009

Riding Toll Roads on a Motorcycle

While the east coast has grown up with toll roads (turnpikes) for a long time, they're a recent phenomenon here in SoCal. It's only been about 15 years now that we've had them.

As such, I still make the mistake of riding my motorcycle onto a toll road.

It happens when I'm looking for a freeway on-ramp, and find one only to realize that I'm getting on to a toll road. I'm sure there was a sign back there that warned me it was a toll road, but I don't seem to pay attention.

The first thought is to do a u-turn and get out of it, but you can't do a u-turn because freeway on-ramps are all single-direction. So the next thought is that I could just ride through the toll booth without paying, and have the camera photograph my license plate and send me a violation notice.

Most of the on-ramps are completely self-serve. There's nobody there collecting tolls. You have to have exact change to toss into the basket, or bills to feed the machine.

Yesterday, I found myself doing such a thing on the 125 toll road in San Diego. I was fortunate to have three one-dollar bills. It cost me $3.00 to travel a distance of about 3 miles. Toll roads in SoCal are pretty expensive, and as such very few people use them.

It's always a hassel to stop my bike, put it in neutral, set the kickstand, take off my gloves, reach into my pocket and find money. I feed the machine, and instantly the light turns green for me to go. Except I have to put the rest of my money back into my pocket, put my gloves back on, stand up the bike, put it in gear and go.

I wish motorcycles were exempt from toll roads. And in fact, one toll road in Orange County (the 91 toll road), is in fact free for motorcycles, when you pass through the "3+ Lane" but with some exceptions.

Interestingly, as I rode further down the 125 toll road, I see this giant electronic sign that said, "Didn't Pay the Toll? Call XXX-XXX-XXXX"

And obviously you only get 5 seconds to memorize the phone number before passing by, and when you're on a motorcycle you can't exactly write it down. And why do they have such a sign anyways? I thought it was illegal in California to call on a cell phone while driving?

The ideal way to ride the toll roads is to get a transponder, a little device you mount to your car's windshield, or motorcycle. Then you can pass through the toll booth without stopping. And I actually have one, but not on my motorcycle.

Perhaps if they made all toll roads free for motorcycles, then motorcycles wouldn't have to split lanes through public freeways. Maybe it would encourage more people to ride motorcycles to work, decrease traffic overall, and even reduce gasoline consumption just a little.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

How to Deal With a Harley Basher

Went out riding today with another riding club based in San Diego. These guys ride mostly sport bikes, but there's a cruiser or two that show up now and then, and today I was one of them with my Electra Glide.

They're a cool group of guys and gals who appreciate twisties and carving up canyons. And they seem to run things quite like our club, mostly shoot from the hip, everyone ride at their own speed, and don't really care where they're going, as long as they're riding all the good roads.

A few days ago, when I noticed this ride posted on their website, I signed in and said that I would be joining in. I also noticed one other guy on the site talking trash on Harley riders, though he worded things in such way that it sounded like he was being humorous.

But this club is far from being Harley-bashers. I've ridden with them many times before and never found them to be that way. In fact, some of their guys have come up to ride with us, knowing they'd be riding with a bunch of Harleys. I think it was just this one guy, who is not even a member of their club, who was doing the trash-talking.

So I left home around 8:30am, determined to get to their staging area by about 9:30am. It was very chilly when I left; it had just rained the day before. But once on the road, it really wasn't all that bad.

When I got to the staging point I met them all, said my hello's, and introduced myself to the guys I hadn't met before.

The guy who was talking trash on Harley riders was there, and I shook his hand. But while waiting for the ride to get underway, this guy continued to laugh and joke about Harley riders. He'd make these loud grumbling noises trying to emulate the sound of a Twin-Cam, suggesting that Harley riders are all about loud pipes and little else. Then he'd belt out a loud laugh, though no one else was laughing. It was mainly because my Harley and I were standing right there in plain view of him and everyone else.

I kept thinking to myself that this guy's a goon.

The guy leading the group defended Harley riders and cruiser riders by saying that he still owns a cruiser, and that he spent many years riding with Harley riders. And I could sense he was stepping up to say something out of politeness to me.

And then midway during the ride we were stopped at a gas station. A group of about 20 Harleys passed by while we were standing by our bikes. That same guy pointed them out and made the same loud grumbling noise, but this time raising his hands up in the air like he was holding on to some 18" apes, and making this monkey-looking face, and then belted out a big laugh. But no else laughed.

"What an idiot" I said to myself.

From here we got into the more twisty part of the route, and so I was determined to hang with them all the way through, just to show them that just because someone rides a Harley doesn't mean that they're only about noise and image.

And it was my lucky day because the leader decided to open up the throttle and ride a lot faster than they normally ride. Today, they had a smaller group and he knew all the riders could handle these speeds. What's more I think he also knew that this other guy who was bashing Harleys was getting on my nerves, and perhaps he led the group at a fast pace just to offer me the opportunity to show him that I could hold my own with them.

And so I stuck with them all the way. I was in the middle of the group, keeping my bike right up nose-to-tail with them. I was probably riding at the upper limits of what I'd feel comfortable with, and in a few places could feel the front end of my Electra Glide starting to wobble. I was even leaning off the bike a little bit in the curves, something I'm trying to learn to do.

At the end of the ride, we were all seated in an outdoor food court, eating lunch and talking about the ride. The ride leader mentioned to me, "Steve, I don't think you need to buy that (Yamaha) FZ6, I think you ride that Harley pretty well through the curves". And he said it with that Harley-basher sitting next to him listening on.

I smiled and tried to say something humble and replied, "Thanks, but that Ultra Classic is still a 900 pound beast and it would be nice to get something designed for the twisties."

And Mr. Harley-basher was rather quiet.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Christmas Toy Run Made Simple

This is the time of the year for Christmas toy runs, and last Saturday I managed to get some riders together to do one.

Except I didn't want to ride in the actual "run". Instead, I just wanted to ride to the dropoff point, just donate the toys, and eat lunch. Afterwards, we'd continue our ride elsewhere.

The toy run in particular is the Toys for Tots run sponsored by the San Diego County Goldwing Riders. They start the run in Oceanside, CA, and do a 30 mile ride to Pauma Casino in Pauma Valley, CA.

Last year I did the official run, and I've ridden in several others as well. Because they have hundreds, or thousands of bikes, the run travels at a very slow pace, usually 10mph on average, and you always get that stop-n-go "accordion effect". I grew frustrated with it over the years.

So this year, I got together some members of our riding club, as well as some riders from my motorcycle meetup group, and we set out on our course, through the valleys and hillsides of Southern California, finally arriving at Pauma Casino about a hour before the official run got there.

When we arrived, I was surprised to see about 100 bikes already there. These were all from other riding clubs and motorcycle clubs. They had figured out the same thing I did, and probably had been doing so for the past several years. They still brought lots of toys, but did it without all the attention.

In fact, the event was serving lunch to these riders for $6.00 a head, instead of the $10.00 a head you have to pay if you do the official run.

It made sense to me. Why subject ourselves to a slow 10mph ride, surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of riders, when we can just ride to the dropoff point on our own, on our own time, donate toys, and avoid all the fanfare?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Harley Still Seems to Think it's Brand is Golden

alpinestars st-1 glovesIt's hard to find a good pair cold weather riding gloves I've discovered. Well actually, there are a lot of good ones out there, but finding a pair that I really like is another matter.

Yesterday, I visited three different metric dealers, a Harley dealer, and two different motorcycle accessories stores. I ultimately settled on a pair of Alpinestars Drystar ST-1 Gloves (pictured here).

I found them at Cycle Gear, listed at $39.99.

Actually, I already have a pair of cold weather riding gloves which I bought a year ago from the local Harley dealer. And I really liked the look and feel, they're soft leather, and fairly plain looking (which is unlike Harley gear). And they were reasonably priced, at $39.99. But I made the mistake of buying them too large, and as a result it's rather clumsy working the controls on my motorcycle.

So back into the process of finding cold weather gloves I went.

The metric motorcycle dealers mostly carried "sport bike gloves", the stuff with all the armored knuckles, the bling and multiple colors. They also carried winter riding gloves, but they were all extremely thick, and quite long, coming half-way up my arms.

In addition, those metric dealers all carry the same line of cheapo gloves. The leather on this stuff is stiff, and almost feeling like plastic. As it turned out, half of their inventory is this cheapo stuff.

I went back to the Harley dealer, Biggs H-D in San Marcos, to see if they have the same gloves, but in a smaller size. They did not.

But they did have something similar, and something that I also liked. But nothing in my size. And it turns out they wanted $75.00 for them! These were very similar to the Harley gloves I bought last winter, but for whatever reason they tacked an extra $35.00 to the price tag.

A girl there asked if she could search nearby dealers to see if they had one in my size. I said "ok", and she said she found a pair in San Diego, which was another hour's drive further away from my home. I said "forget it, I'm not driving all the way down there just to pay $75.00 for a pair of gloves that are already overpriced!". She said, "Yeah, I know."

Then she offered to have the San Diego dealer ship them up to her store, and then I could pick them up. But I would have to pay for them now. "Nah", I said. It was that $75.00 price tag that made me sick.

And that brings me to a thought. This dealership, Biggs H-D, is the dealership where I bought my Electra Glide a few years ago. Back then, they were hoppin'. They had so many bikes on the showroom floor, and so many clothes and accessories, you could kill a couple hours going through it all. But yesterday, they had only 1/4th the inventory they used to have.

Harley is still trying to capitalize on its brand, at a time when people aren't willing to pay a premium for the brand.

I looked at their leather jackets. Some of them go for $500.00 or more. And on top of that, all of their jackets have that "Harley-Davidson" logo in extra large letters on the back. "Why the Hell would I pay $500.00 for a giant Harley logo on my back?" I kept thinking. "If they want me to advertise for them, they should give me the jacket for free."

That's why I'm really liking Cycle Gear these days. They sell good stuff, at good prices. And as a result, Cycle Gear stores always have customers in them. The Biggs H-D dealership I went to yesterday, had no customers except for me (at least not when I was there).

I think the recession put us into a new era of thinking. We're looking past the brand and evaluating the value we get from our money. Meanwhile Harley-Davidson still seems to think it's brand is golden. Yet, I'm no longer buying stuff because it has a Harley logo on it, rather I'm buying stuff because I need it, and because it fits just right, and because it's priced cheap.

And I think Harley may be getting the message. I just read this article about the Motor Company installing an upgraded version of its customer relations management software at most of its dealers. It's supposed to help them collect more information about each customer, and leverage it to increase sales.

And that's a start, though they still need to design bikes that last, instead of bikes that beg for upgrades.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Motorcycle Camping in Death Valley

Over this last weekend our riding club did an overnight camping trip to Death Valley. We stayed at Furnace Creek Campground.

You can see my photos posted here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/cleardigital/20091114DeathValley

(this link opens up a new window)

Death Valley is always thought of as being hot, and if you're not from around Southern California, you might think it's a good place to visit to get away from the cold. But as it turns out, Death Valley gets cold this time of the year, though I'm sure it's still warmer compared to North Dakota. But then, when you've spent much of your life in SoCal, well, it's cold.

Artist's Drive, Death Valley, CA

I've mentioned before on this blog that I've been dieting and slowly losing weight. Thus far, I've lost 70 pounds over 18 months. But for this camping trip, I decided to splurge and let loose. I had an omelette, potatoes, biscuit and gravy, pork loin, louisiana hot links, bacon, beef jerky, cookies, trail mix, grapes, beer, wine, whiskey. And that was just Saturday. I won't bore you with Sunday's consumption.

But yet this morning, when I weighed myself, I gained no weight, nor lost any. I weighed just as much as I did when I left Saturday morning.

"How could that be?" I wondered.

I didn't really exercise at all during the trip, not nearly enough to burn that many calories.

I'm chalking it up to the "magic of motorcycle riding".

I've written before on how riding motorcycles somehow seems to burn more calories than you'd expect. You might think it's a sedentary activity of just sitting down. But the fact is that after a long ride, I feel very tired, not just mentally, but physically also.

I mean, when riding a motorcycle there's a lot of muscular activity taking place, more so when going through the twisties. As I'm navigating through these curves, my right foot is always hovering just above the foot brake, ready to depress when needed. And if you think about it, the whole time your foot is like this, you're actually tensing up a muscle in your shin.

In fact, your whole body is on alert, ready to react immediately, whether for a hard lean, an immediate stop, or shifting the weight of your body. It'd be worth an experiment to ride through the twisties and then be conscious of what muscles are tensed up.

I remember watching the documentary, "On Any Sunday" and it was said that motocross is the second-most physically demanding sport, second only to soccer. But of course, that's motocross, with all of its crashes and beatings. But I have to think that there's still something about a street motorcycle moving at 50mph through a series of twisties that makes you use up almost every muscle in your body. Yet at the end of the day you might think all you did was sit on your butt.

But let's not forget about sleeping. Did you know that a man weighing between 150-175 pounds will burn about 500-600 calories, just sleeping for eight hours? You'll burn more depending on how much work you've exerted during the day. While you sleep, it's restoring energy to your muscles, growing new cells, and repairing tissues. I think a full day of motorcycling sets up a full night of calorie-burning sleep.


View Death Valley Ride, Nov 14-15, 2009 in a larger map

Well, the campout was a lot of fun.

You know, the deserts of California are known for their miles and miles of straight roads, but we managed to stray off the beaten path and get on some of the lesser-traveled roads, and enjoy some good riding. Add to that the comraderie, the sharing, the helping out, and it's the kind of weekend a guy would ask for.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Biker Fashion Without the Motorcycle

Susan Carpenter, who writes about motorcycle stuff for the Los Angeles Times, mentions in her latest article that fashion designers are using the motorcycle for inspiration...
"Designers have been revving up their collections this season with studded handbags, strappy boots, leather jackets and other items of "biker chic" -- fashionable, motorcyclist-derived clothing that allows women to look tough without actually throwing a leg over."

She goes on to try out some of these fashion pieces, and then hops on a Harley to see if they offer any kind of functionality for riders.

I'm curious to know what bikers these fashion designers saw when they designed these clothes, because the woman in the photo (in the above linked article) doesn't resemble any of the women riders in my neck of the woods.

It's also amusing to note that this is their image of the American biker.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Riding Someone Else's Motorcycle

Today I got a chance to ride my buddy's Goldwing. He has a 2009 model year. I only took it around the neighborhood where he lives. But I was really impressed with how well it handled, and how so well balanced it rode.

I could do tight turns more easily than I could on my Electra Glide Ultra Classic.

I'm so accustomed to riding my Ultra, that riding a Goldwing feels so much different. In fact, anytime I've ridden someone else's motorcycle, it's always so different.

Even it's the same motorcycle, it still feels different. Another friend of mine has an Ultra Classic also, and in fact he same the same 2005 model year that I have, and neither of our bikes have been lowered. We even have the same stock seat. Yet, his still feels so different. He's ridden my Ultra, and he agrees that mine feels very different from his. Yet, we can't seem to figure out why the two have a different feel.

There's a gal in our riding club with a Yamaha Roadliner. The stock handlebars on that bike are quite wide, almost like beach bars. Watching her ride up ahead of me, I can't help but wonder how uncomfortable she looks. My friend Brian jumped on it once for a short ride, and noted how uncomfortable the bars felt to him as well. It seems as if she'd only change the bars, get something a little more narrow, and with a little bit higher rise, I think she could manuever that bike so much more easily.

And that brings me to a point that some riders are able to handle slow speed turns, and twisties so much better than other riders, and part of that is due to the bike. The bike itself can make a huge difference in how well you handle the road. But yet, you may never know that until you get on someone else's bike and ride it.

Only then do you realize how much of an impact the bike itself makes on your ability to master riding skills.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Rides Stimulate More Rides

I took a ride Sunday with one of the newest members of our riding club, Jack. Actually, he and I rode last Thursday, as well as Saturday.

And after the ride, well into the evening, each of us rested in our homes and chatted together on our cell phones.

"Do you realize we just did 330 miles of riding today?" he asks.

"Was it 330 miles?" I answered.

"330 fricken miles!" he says.

Jack went on to say how this whole week has been awesome, starting with a short little ride on Thursday, a ride up to Joshua Tree National Monument on Saturday, and a ride out to the Salton Sea on Sunday. I could hear the satisfaction in his voice.

"I mean what more could I ask for?" he goes on. "We rode some roads I had never ridden before, and been to places I had never been, and rode a ton of miles!"

He also expressed enthusiasm when he asked, "Hey, did you see that Joe posted an overnight camping trip on the forum for later this month?"

"I saw that!" I said.

"I am going", he said emphatically. "I think it's cool that he's putting this together, and I want to support him on it".

"That's because he had such a great time on the last overnighter we did", I responded.

"Well, rides stimulate more rides", Jack said.

And that's a good point. When people have fun on rides, they want more rides. Except what we try to do in this riding club is encourage everyone to make something happen. Instead of having a club leader, we empowered each person to take matters into their own hands, and make something happen with this group of riding junkies.

And I'll give credit to Jack, he made the Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday rides happen. He called people up, posted on our forum, and rallied the folks together.

And now today, a Monday, Jack is trying to get me out riding this afternoon. Neither Jack or I are retired, we're just fortunate to have jobs that give us this kind of freedom. And while I do have plenty of things to do with my work, I can't help but reward that kind of enthusiasm for riding.

"Yeah", I told him. "I'll meet you at the Shell Station at 10:00am".

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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...)