Thursday, January 30, 2014

1948 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead

1948 harley-davidson FL
Shaking my head with my arms folded, I watched him cycle the kickstarter a couple of times until he got the crankshaft into the right position. Then he stepped up on it and slammed it down.


"Blub, blub."

"Blub, blub, blub, potato potato potato..."

It started up on the very first kick.

I thought for sure it wouldn't.

"When you put it all back together right, that's what it's supposed to do", my step-father said.

The year was 1984. I had just graduated high school.  He had just put his beloved 1948 Harley-Davidson FL back together, and I was really amazed it started up on the first crank.

Earlier in that year, my step-father had finally gotten serious about putting it back together. He had been up late into the evenings and sometimes early mornings, cleaning, scrubbing, painting, and bolting together a motorcycle that had been taken apart down to the smallest piece and stored away into crates, boxes, and coffee cans.

He originally got it in the early 1970s.  It had actually been his only means of transportation during his college days in New Mexico. It probaby started in 1968 with a motor he found at a junk yard. He would work, save his money, and either go back to the junk yard or send away for parts he couldn't find anywhere else. A couple years later, he had himself a completely restored bike.

Soon after, he enlisted in the Navy, and put his FL into storage at his grandparents house in Rifle.

I remember the day he brought it back home.

It all started in the the Summer of 1975. My mother had met him in a bar in San Diego. One evening, she came home from work and told me she and I would be taking a trip to Colorado in just a few weeks. She said she met a guy who planned to drive to Colorado in his van to retrieve his old motorcycle. We spent a few days driving there, and a few days driving back.  I was just nine years old at the time.

When we brought the bike back to San Diego, he moved in with my mom and I. I used to watch him take the bike apart piece by piece. His plan was to clean it all up, repaint it, and put it back together.

Nine years later, it finally happened.

For much of that time, however, he hardly worked on it.  He'd have moments of cleaning the carburetor and trying to hammer a front rim back into a perfect circle.  And I always there to watch and ask questions.  I used to pester him and bug him and ask if I could help.  Most of the time, he didn't want me messing around with it.

Along the way, I gained a half-brother.

There were times when I grew really angry at my mom and real father.  Each of them had remarried to different people and gave birth to new sons.  I felt replaced, abandoned, and unwanted.  I became so resentful inside, I found it difficult to make friends.  I spent my junior high and high school years alone.

But my step-father did buy me a used 1979 Kawasaki KZ400 for $50.00 as a high school graduation present. It was third-hand, recently wrecked, and not running.  It wouldn't be another year, however, until we took that bike apart and put it back together.

What really impressed me the most about him, however, is that he remembered where each and every nut, bolt and washer belonged on his Harley, even after all those years of being in storage.  I mean, they weren't even labeled, nor did he bother to keep nuts, bolts, and washers connected together.  It was a testament to a rider's intimate knowledge of his own bike.

He spent probably the next year riding that old FL. He'd take it to work and take it out to bars. The last night he rode it he was drunk off his ass. He had come back home from a bar with a buddy. The two of them wanted to continue riding down Ortega Highway (state route 74). My mom begged him to not go, and he finally relented and stayed home. I don't remember him riding the bike after that.

Maybe a few months later, he sold it for $4,500.00 cash.  I think he was pissed at my mom.  She was never supportive of him riding.

By that time, we had rebuilt my KZ400 and I was riding it to college and work. I'd take it out at nights and pick up chicks. It was my only means of transportation as well.

The truth is that my step-father and I never had a close relationship. He was far more close to his son than I. But he did leave a permanent mark on me with respect to motorcycling. Somehow, growing up feeling alone and replaced created a bond with my motorcycle that I can't quite put into words.  I wish I still had my KZ400.

My half-brother posing on the Harley

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to Fight a Helmet Ticket in California

richard quigley
Richard Quigley
Roughly seven years ago, one of the more well-respected figures in California motorcycle rights organizations died. Richard Quigley is not a name the average motorcycle rider knows about, but if you've spent a lot of time championing the rights of motorcycle riders, you've certainly heard of him.

Quigley established the group known as "Cal BOLT" (California Bikers of Lesser Tolerance).  He was known for fighting the helmet law...
In 1999, he decided to start riding his motorcycle wearing a trucker's cap, instead of the typical head gear other riders tend to wear. Between the years 1999 to 2006, he had been stopped over 100 times by police, cited only 34 times for helmet law violations, and managed to get 25 of those citations dismissed or declared unconstitutional. 
Each time he was stopped, he turned on his pocket tape recorder and then proceeded to interrogate the officer's understanding of the helmet law and what a "DOT Helmet" actually is. His intricate knowledge of the helmet law and how the DOT is involved with helmets, along with these tape recordings, is how he managed to get so many tickets overturned.
Before he died, he left behind a wealth of information on how to fight a ticket for not wearing a "DOT helmet".

He pointed out the flaws in California's "safety helmet" law and how riders could exploit it to win their case in court.

As it turns out, California Vehicle Code 28702 establishes safety requirements for motorcycle helmets.  However, it doesn't actually require helmets to meet the safety standards of the federal Department of Transportation.  It only says that manufacturers must certify that their helmets meet the DOT safety standards.  If anything, the law requires that these helmets be labeled as compliant (DOT sticker).

The law also requires that the helmet have some kind of strap to secure the helmet on.  It doesn't say that it has to be a chin strap.  Just a strap.

The California Highway Patrol also says it's legal to manufacture your own helmet.

The court system has also ruled that helmet law violations are "fix it tickets", and you cannot be fined.  Which is how Quigley got many of his tickets thrown out.

So, Quigley used to ride with a truckers cap with the letters "DOT" sewn into the back.  The cap had a strap that tightened around the head, just like any other cap.  Quigley argued that his cap was tested against the DOT standards, and was found to comply, because that's all that needed to comply (just your word).

You can read the full details on how to beat a helmet ticket in California at this page...

I point this out because a guy like Quigley went through a lot of trouble and hassel by the Man just to give the rest of us motorcycle riders some ammunition when getting hasseled ourselves.  Even at his funeral, at least one motorcycle officer came by to pay his respects to a man who knew the law so intricately and had the guts to take a stand.

What Quigley left behind works only when a cop is citing your helmet as not being "DOT".  It doesn't work if you've been cited for not wearing any kind of hear gear at all.

The truth is that most of us don't want to spend the time fighting a helmet citation.  We don't want to break out tape recorders and argue at length with a cop about the helmet law.  We'd just rather pay the ticket and be done with it, and that's what local governments want you to do also.

But maybe you'll find yourself with the time to fight it in court, and will want to have all that ammunition with you.  That's what Cal BOLT is dedicated to helping you with.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

riding the freeway
I-15 northbound, past Lawrence Welk Resort
Riding the freeways just isn't the big boredom that it used to be for me. As little as a few years ago, I didn't care to ride the slab. I always wanted to take the little highways that ran through mountains and canyons.

But these days are different. Today, my motorcycle is back to being my only means of transportation. It isn't just for recreation anymore. As a result, it changes the way I think about motorcycling. Now, it's my daily vehicle. It's no longer a toy I keep around for the weekends. Freeways are just a fact of life in San Diego, and riding them on my motorcycle is a fact of life.

Instead, you learn to find the fun in riding freeways, just as much as I find the fun in riding through downtown. Motorcycling is no longer a thing I do to get away from domestic life, it's completely engrained into my domestic life.

I remember seeing a rerun of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown", the one where he discovers the restaurants of Korea Town Los Angeles. He hooks up with an ecclectic Korean-American painter named David Choe.

The show depicts Choe in his studio garage surrounded by bikini clad Korean hotties as he feverishly swashes black paint across a canvas in the same fervor as a hip hop rapper spitting saliva into a microphone. Choe talks to Bourdain with a kind of youthful attitude and anger found ad nauseum on MTV.  Bourdain wants to get inside this guy's head to figure out what makes him tick, because only a hometown boy like Choe knows where to find the down to Earth eats that Koreans go to enjoy.

Sizzler in Murrieta, CA
So it comes to no surprise that Choe takes Bourdain to a Sizzler for the salad bar buffet.

Bourdain's facial expression was that of amusement and that of "You're joking, right?" But as it turns out, Korean-Americans are enamored with the corporate American fare. To them, day-old lettuce and frozen chicken wings is exotic Western dining. It's the stuff completely opposite of kim chee and bulgogi beef, and it's stuff romanticized on such American media as Roseanne and The Simpsons.  And the fact that they can eat all they want for one low price, leaves the matter without question.

So there's Bourdain, sitting at a table of formica and naugahyde, being taught how to stuff meatballs into a crispy taco shell topped off with nacho cheese sauce.  Bourdain holds the taco up to his mouth and pauses, the same way he pauses when he's about to eat pig testicles in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He takes a bite and nods his head a few times in approval.

According to Bourdain, it was the first time he had ever been to a Sizzler.

Whether its meatball and cheese sauce tacos at Sizzler or some strange hog entrail stew in an European town, the experience is all the same. It looks gross, it smells sick, and it'll probably make you barf later on. But it's not to say that one is more exotic than the other.

SR-163 southbound, San Diego
Riding the superslab through California might be as uninteresting and dull as eating the salad bar at Sizzler. But there are still people elsewhere in the world who dream of doing so. And when they finally get here and ride the Interstate, it might turn out to be anticlimactic, but it was something they could boast about back home.

Perhaps for Sash and I, riding the freeway this afternoon and having lunch at Sizzler was nothing exciting. But then again, it's just living for us, the same way it is for Czechoslovakians eating pig testicles.  But there are still people who envy us for doing so.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

If J.D. Salinger Rode a Motorcycle

motorcycle reflection
Dumbfounded, I simply answered, "Well how did you know I ride a motorcycle?" The guy answered back, "I don't know, I just thought you did." I came to the conclusion that it must have been my clothing gave me away because I certainly didn't announce it when I came into the bar.

And that has always ate at me.

Somehow, I don't like advertising myself as a motorcycle rider.

It's really about categorization. I hate that people can put me into a box where they can predict my beliefs and behaviors. And just to piss them off, I'll say something that I don't actually believe in just to throw them off.

It's why I don't go to biker bars anymore. There, people have you figured out. You're a biker. But when I go somewhere else, I'm completely anonymous. They don't know if I'm a commie-pinko bastard, or a capitalist pig, or an illegal alien. No one knows where I am on the political spectrum, the social scale, or the evolutionary timeline. At best they know I drink the dark stuff, and therefore I must be some kind of ass wipe, but that's about it.

What I appreciate, however, is recognition from my peers. I like getting comments from other motorcycle bloggers. I like talking to other riders who've ridden to Alaska and back. I like to compare notes on such infamous roads as the Moki Dugway, the Beartooth Pass, the Coronado Trail, or Going to the Sun Road. But I don't like wearing that stuff.

OK, there was a time when I used to wear a leather vest adorned with pins of all the places I had been to. Somehow, that made me feel as if I had earned my place within the biker community. But when I first started riding in 1985, I had been a solitary rider. I was riding to commute to college and work. I never went to rallies, or rode with groups. Back then, I would wear my normal clothes. I didn't even wear a "motorcycle jacket", I had just a plain old jacket.

So over the years, after I bought a pickup truck, motorcycling became relegated to a hobby. When it came time to upgrade that old Kawasaki KZ400 to a new bike, I bought a Yamaha Road Star. From there, I ventured into some local riding clubs and groups and found myself amid other leather-clad riders. I wanted to fit in, so I wore the same shit. The only things I simply refused to wear were chaps and a doo-rag. I mean, I had to draw the line somewhere.

But as the years went by, I found so much fake with all that. The collection of leather vests, the pendleton shirts, the bandanas, the rally pins, the long-sleeves with the flames up the arms. To me, all that stuff is more visual than it is practical.  And when you become all about the visual, then what?

I also found that as the years went by, other riders respected me for the years that I had been riding. My riding buddies, along with other local riders who knew of me, didn't care about how big of geek or dork I was. They already knew about my experiences. So I woke up one day and decided to sell the Harley and buy a Honda ST. That meant getting rid of all my Harley t-shirts and all my "biker" gear.  I remember a few Harley enthusiasts telling me it was an act of regression to go from Harley to Honda. I would disagree. But overall, the people who appreciate me as a rider didn't really care about any of that external stuff.

It's like the more time you spend riding, and the more miles you put on, the more humble you become. Maybe it's just the people who are new to motorcycling that get caught up in the "look at me" thing.

My therapist once told me, "you have to swing all the way to one side to know that you don't belong there."

I feel as if I started out at one extreme, swung all the way to the other, and then swung back to the other extreme again.

There's an element of Catcher in the Rye in just about all walks of life, not just motorcycling. Anything can be either a total rat race of chameleons trying to fit in, or total anonymity and mystery as to what makes you tick. But like with anything, it's all about balancing the extremes than to be one or the other. Sometime's its good to wear a little flair, sometimes it's good to be invisible. I'd rather have the freedom to choose than to be forced to choose sides.

Still, I don't like giving myself away as a motorcycle rider. It almost feels like bragging. For that matter, I don't like giving myself away as a computer geek, or a business owner, or a craft-beer snob. I'd rather be a mystery to some and totally invisible to others than to advertise myself and have people put me into a category.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Riding Without Gloves

riding without gloves
4th & University, San Diego
Much of my motorcycle riding the past several weeks has been relegated to the core of San Diego, mostly the downtown areas and the immediate neighboring communities.

I haven't done any joy riding in a while.

For one, I've spent a lot of time working on our Internet business. But two, I've been fighting off a flu bug the past 10 days.

But overall, my life has really narrowed down to working all day long and then hanging out at the bar at night. I haven't spent much time riding motorcycles with friends, not like the way I used to a few years ago when weekends seemed made for riding with friends.

I don't even pay much attention to the newest motorcycles out now. A fellow rider could talk about the newest sportbike from BMW or Yamaha, and I would nod my head as if I knew what they're talking about, but yet I wouldn't know a thing. I don't really care about the latest in motorcycle technology right now. I just want to talk about the deep philosophical stuff that only makes sense to a motorcycle rider.

Riding through the big city is a challenge enough. The traffic, the potholes, the tight turns, I never seem to get the Honda ST past 3rd gear. You can't think like a joy rider in these parts. You have to be more aggressive. You have to see yourself as having the advantage of two-wheels and then exploiting it. Otherwise, the cagers, the truckers, and cab drivers can sense the fear in you, and if they sense it you're dead.

Cafe Moto at Barrio Logan
I think somehow, that's made me a different rider.

For one, I don't seem to ride with gloves anymore. They're too bulky. I need to feel my fingers on the grips and levers, it gives me better control. I can fine tune the braking and clutching. Even when it rains, I still find it better to go without gloves.

Why I feel the need to have such fine control, I don't exactly know. Somehow, the steep hills and aggressive driving in the city just made me want to be that way.

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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...)