Friday, July 24, 2015

Getting 100,000 Miles Out of a Motorcycle

100000 miles on the odometer
My odometer, seconds after the 100,000 mile turnover
The feeling was more like a revelation than anything else. When Blackbird, my faithful Honda ST1300, finally logged its 100,000th mile this afternoon, I realized where it happened, and when it happened, and thought to myself, "Oh, OK."

I mean, after my Alaska trip in 2010, I felt convinced that this bike was a keeper. That's the point when I wondered how long it would take until I got to see the odomoter tick from "99999" to "100000", and where it would happen. It wasn't until just a few weeks ago, that I finally had a good idea.

So, there it happened today, along County Road S-22 in San Diego County, otherwise known as "Montezuma Valley Rd", just east of Ranchita, CA, inside Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

But best part about it is that Blackbird did this without any help. That is, she's never needed repairs. Nothing busted, no faulty parts, and nothing worn out. All it has ever needed was the usual fluids, brake pads, and tires. It's not like my 2005 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic, that needed constant repairs and patch work to keep it going. I mean, I suppose any motorcycle could go 100,000 miles if you keep replacing busted parts.

So, kudos to the engineers at Honda for designing a rock solid bike.

Yeah, that Harley was a comfortable bike with lots of bells and whistles. But that's about all I can really say about it. About every 8,000 to 10,000 miles, it would require some kind of major repair. A few times the inner primary seal wore out and needed replacing, which is a tedious job to do. I had a head pipe crack on me. I had the rear brake line wear a hole. I had an engine mount crack and disintegrate. The ball joint on the shift rod connector wore out. And of course, I had the cam chain tensioners disintegrate.

It's as if Harley designs bikes with the intention of failing so that you'll take it to a dealer for repair. That way, you'll notice the newer motorcycles in the showroom that were resdesigned to solve the problems your bike is plagued with.

"Yup, Harley fixed that issue last year", the salesman says to you. "Your bike was the last model year that had that problem."

honda st1300
County Road S-22, just inside Anza Borrego Desert State Park
It's no wonder why the Motor Company sells more bikes to existing owners than to any other group.

It was around 75,000 miles when the cam chain tensioners finally disintegrated on my Electra Glide. I was faced with either replacing them, or spending a lot of extra cash for gear-driven cams. It would take another 50,000 to 75,000 miles for gear-driven cams to pay for themselves, and everyone encouraged me to do it. But I said, "No".

This is where the love-hate relationship with Harley stops.

I went the cheaper route by getting new cam chain tensioners, and then I sold the bike. I used that money to buy a used 2006 Honda ST1300 that had 7,000 miles on it. 93,000 miles later, here I am writing about it.

Complaining about Harleys isn't the reason for writing all this however. My point is that I wouldn't appreciate getting 100,000 miles out of a motorcycle that needed no repair work if I had never had the Harley.

But it's not to say that Blackbird will put on another 100,000 miles. She could fall apart tomorrow for all I know. But at this point, I feel satisfied knowing I got my money's worth.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Conflict Between Love and Comfort

Sash and the Indian Scout along Palomar Mountain Road
Roads in and of themselves are not dangerous. They're simply layers of pavement that remain still. It's the riders themselves that lose control. Yet, motorcyclists often describe one road as being more dangerous than another, and often speak of roads reputed to be so dangerous that some riders refuse to ride them.

When I lead Sash to Palomar Mountain Road last winter, I felt compelled to pull off to the side to give her some tips about what she would encounter. I didn't want her to underestimate the switchbacks and decreasing radius curves and end up dead. Many riders have crashed and died along that road.

"Be careful" I said to her, thinking that somehow, she'd ride more carefully.

But in thinking it through, I felt a conflict. I love Sash for her tenacity, detemination, and guts, yet here I was asking her to be a little more intellectual so as to address my fear. The truth is, it's not fair to a rider that they tone down their enthusiasm to suit someone else's concerns, even if the sentiment was out of genuine care. When someone else asks me to "ride safe", I usually don't give it much thought, nor take any offense. But after having logged hundreds of thousands of miles myself, I like to think that I can make my own decisions on staying safe.

At the root of all this, is a conflict between love and comfort.

We all have things we love, but we also want to feel comfortable. Can we love something and set it free, but at the same time control it when we're worried?

We see it all the time in other facets of life...

  • You love your new boyfriend because he's so creative, spontaneous, and free thinking, but you want him to put on a shirt and tie when taking him to meet your parents.
  • We love sports figures who battle to the death, break records, and pump their fists in victory, but we want them to be humble and civil in public.
  • You love having your buddies over for a night of poker, beer, and jokes, but you want them to keep it quiet because your wife is sleeping upstairs.

In fact, it was Sash who decided a couple years earlier that we ought to wish someone to "ride fun" instead of "ride safe" because it seems to be a more neutral valediction.

But that doesn't always relieve the conflict between love and comfort.

The more you love someone, the more you worry, and the more comfort you seek. Setting someone free is not that easy, yet it's the letting go that mysteriously makes them come back.

These days, I've become more conscious about bidding farewell to a fellow rider. I catch myself wanting to say, "ride safe", but instead say something like "catch you later".

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Show Low, AZ to Scottsdale

US-60 descending into the Salt River Canyon
Rain had been predicted all Saturday long when I left Show Low, AZ for Scottsdale. I hadn't brought any rain gear with me, aside from the leather jacket and full face helmet I normally wear. So, I was prepared for a soaking.

"It's just water", I often explain to myself.

I did, however, bring my cold weather, waterproof gloves, because they don't take up much space in the trunk. Yet, I opted not to wear them because rain was not actually falling the moment I left. I'm one of those "in the moment" guys, as opposed to those, "you never know" guys, and would just rather wait to see how accurate the forecast was.

As US-60 made the slow descent from the White Mountain Range into the Salt River Canyon, grayish thunderheads loomed across the horizon like giant puffs of billowy cotton soaked with the warm waters of the Gulf of California. The highway wasn't making any attempt to steer me away from them either. It looked as if this ride was going to be as wet as the weatherman said it would.

If there was any consolation, the road was wide open. The scores of minivans and RVs I had expected along this route just wasn't to be found.

Yet somehow, I had passed under numerous clouds that looked to ready to unleash their loads, and nothing came down. So far, the rain had waited.



As the highway began the twists and turns that snaked its way down the rock canyon walls to the river bottom, sunshine had actually come out. The air was starting to warm up to the normal 100+ degrees F that Arizona typically sees this time of the year. I felt rewarded for having stuck to my guns about gearing up for the "now" instead of for the "might be". And just when I thought I was going to be stuck behind a line of slow moving cages, the highway offered a passing lane that let me twist the throttle and get in some good leans.

Another 10 miles down the way, I was treated to some beautiful views of blue sky interspersed with bright white stratocumulus clouds hovering over streaks of bluish-gray mountain ranges. Where were the other Saturday afternoon riders? I suppose they were frightened off by the overly-cautious weather forecast.

After I finished a rather uncharacteristic lunch of all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet in the town of Globe, I opted to prolong my journey into the Salt River Valley with a side route to Roosevelt Lake via AZ-188. According to Google Maps, AZ-188 would then intersect me with AZ-88, a road that would take me to Scottsdale but more twisty and challenging.

Yet when I got to the 88, I found a sign warning me that it was all dirt. So, I stopped at an overlook that offered gorgeous views of Lake Roosevelt, and spoke to a couple of Harley riders, who confirmed that the 88 was indeed all dirt, and very soft in places. No worry, I ended up taking the 188 instead to AZ-87, and then into Scottsdale.

As it turns out, I got only a light bit of rain taking the AZ-87 south, not even enough to pull over and put on my waterproof gloves for. Sometimes when it threatens to rain, that's all it amounts to.

View more photos from this ride here.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Exploration is the Key to Self-Discovery

US-60, AZ, through the Superstition Mountains
Exploration is the key to self-discovery. I've read those words a number of times in various places, and they always seemed like an oxymoron because I thought exploration and self-discovery were practically the same thing.

But that piece of advice somewhat suggests that we are to reach a destination of realization, where we might finally get into a groove and ride out the remaining years of our lives in fulfillment. But, I'm not sure I've met anyone who has fully discovered themselves.

In fact, in the past few years of riding across the country, I've come to meet many people who went through divorces, or are contemplating divorce, because things are different now. They've changed. Their kids moved out. They lost their job. Self-discovery is an on-going process as opposed to something we arrive at and conclude.

Yesterday, I left Chandler, AZ for Las Cruces, NM, believing I would continue taking Interstate 10 eastbound through more flat, straight, expanse of desert. As boring it might sound, the Interstate has been the tried-and-true way to get through that heat quickly with plenty of amenities and rest stops in between. But after looking at the map one more time, I realized I could actually take US-60 and US-70 through Globe, Safford, and Duncan before reconnecting with the I-10 at Lordsburg. The route was technically a little shorter in miles, but longer in time.

Moreover, there was a stretch of the US-70 between Safford and Lordsburg that I had never ridden before.

I'm glad I made that choice.



Temperatures dropped from the upper 90s into the low 80s as the US-60 wound its way up the Superstition Mountains. I was treated to gorgeous views of boulder-laden grades interspersed with oaks and creosote bush. I was able to lean into sweeping curves one after another, feeling the centripetal force pulling my body and motorcycle down into my tires as I increased throttle and slingshotted from each apex. It was some fun riding.

Just the cooler air alone, made it worth the while.

But as I got to the other side, dropping down into the Apache Indian Reservation, that respite was soon gone. I was back into hotter air, though still enjoying pretty scenery and a highway largely free of traffic.

And that stretch of US-70 between Safford and Lordsburg that I had never ridden before? Well, it was actually rather straight and unremarkable. Yet, it was still satisfying because my mind had shifted to that of exploration. What I had ended up discovering was just another piece of Arizona and New Mexico that I had never seen before. And now that I've seen it, I like to think that I know these two states just a little bit better.

Perhaps that's what self-discovery is too. Getting ourselves off the familiar routine and trying something new is like stirring up the pot to see what else is in there. Even if on paper, the familiar routine is the tried-and-true way to get through the day, we're never going to grow as people if we don't face challenges and explore the unknown.

Even if you were to discover that there isn't anything new, at least you discovered that.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

Interstate 10, eastbound into Arizona
It's been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. But while most of us mean to do good, in the end it's always what we failed to do that we're defined. It's always that one big opportunity we didn't make good on, that haunts us.

Good ideas always start out, of course, as good ideas. But science teaches us that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". You can't put a good idea into place without pissing on someone else's Cheerios. And when naysayers make good on their equal and opposite reaction, you're on that road to Hell.

But it's all in how you handle the negativity that determines whether you're barbecued in Hades, or toasted on the morning show circuit; every dark cloud has a silver lining they say.

Meanwhile Interstate 10 through the State of Arizona offers its own little road to Hell. As I got into Phoenix this afternoon, the air temperature gauge on my Honda ST1300 read 108 degrees F (42.2 C). The thing is that it gets so hot in AZ, and getting to the Valley of the Sun requires hundreds of miles of empty desert, you don't want to take side roads. You just want to get there as fast as you can.

108 degrees. The "F" means "Fuck this shit"
Sash, on the other hand, is still in Southern California, continuing her commitment to doctors appointments. After spending so much time together on the road the past few years, living in hotel rooms, cabins, and vacation rentals, we need some time apart. Moreover, "I" need some time apart. I need that feeling of running away, being on my own, left to my own devices.

And we've talked a lot about spending more time apart as a way to maintain a healthy relationship. We've talked about it for a few years now. But it's always manifested as a few hours here or a day or two there; we've never spent weeks apart before, until now.

Looking back across my adult life, there were things I wanted to do that I never made good on. The reasons why are many. For one, I married young. And two, I spent my twenties chasing the approval of a mother and father who just weren't going to give it to me. But also, it was because I've been one to just let sleeping dogs lie. I didn't want to rock the boat, or disrupt the status quo with what I felt were good ideas. I didn't want to find myself on the road to Hell.

Sash, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be bothered with going to Hell because she's always managed to come back from it. I guess it's a good thing that I have her as a guide in my life. But then again, it might make me dangerous.

Dinner and brew, Uncle Bear's Brewery, Chandler, AZ
Meanwhile, my stay in the Phoenix area lasts only one night. By morning, I'm looking to avoid the road to Hell once more with some cooler AM temperatures as I make my way further east into New Mexico.

I've a balding front tire that needs replaced, and I'm certain no one's got something that'll match the Michelin PR4 on my rear wheel. So, I'm looking for a shop that can get one in a few days time and mount it on the spot.

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Heading Back Out On the Highway

This morning I headed back out on the highway with Las Cruces, NM as my first destination. This time going solo. I'm planning a short stint of 19 days before returning to SoCal. When I get back, Sash and I are taking another little trip to the 75th Anniversary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Since cutting our original road trip short last month, and returning to Southern California, Sash and I have stayed at her house in Menifee for 16 days now. She actually still owns a house, but has been renting it out to a family the past few years. They moved out of the house just as she and I returned back. So, the house is mostly empty aside from a futon, television, and patio furniture.

But now the house is up for sale.

A few weeks after the Sturgis Rally, Sash has another doctor's appointment in San Diego. So, she'll be returning. I have a client in Boulder, CO that I'll be visiting with. After that, I'm not sure what I'll be doing.

Probably just riding around.

I can remember at the age of 12 when our family moved from San Diego to Santa Ana. The change in culture was severe. Even though the neighborhood we lived in San Diego was predominantly hispanic, it was still very friendly. I had lots of friends there. In Santa Ana, however, where the population is also hispanic, people remain guarded. As the only Asian/White family on the block, we were like alien invaders to them. I never felt so alone there.

But at that time, I was also going through some of my own problems with being a stepchild. Both my mother and father remarried to new spouses, and both had new sons to love and raise. It made me feel abandoned. Moreover, my mom kept complaining about me spending too much time inside the house during weekends and summer vacations. She wanted me to get out of the house.

"Go outside and make some new friends!" she demanded while making a serious face.

How was I supposed to make friends with people who made suspicious expressions at me?

It didn't take long, however, until I discovered the Santa Ana River Trail. It was a stretch of narrow pavement for bicyclists and joggers that ran along the banks of the Santa Ana River. It starts in the San Bernardino Mountains and flows some 96 miles to the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach.

I'd ride my bicycle a couple of miles to the river trail, and from there could ride southwest to the beach, which was about 8 miles, or ride northeast to Prado Dam, which was about 22 miles. The first couple of times I rode towards the beach, and by the time I got there, I found it very crowded with joggers, skateboarders, and bicyclists. I felt quite overwhelmed. So, I started going the other way towards Prado Dam.

The entire day of riding to Prado Dam and back was close to 45 miles. This for a teenager was actually not that exhausting. It did, however, keep me in good physical condition, which I think I still benefit from today.

But for the most part, spending so much time riding far away, and being all alone, made me feel so much more comfortable. I didn't have my mom nagging me. I didn't have to be the stepchild anymore. I'd imagine myself as running away, and resigning myself to my own faculties. Yet, I'd return home by evening.

What I know now is that I get quite anxious staying in one place for too long. Sixteen days here in Menifee has been a long enough time for me. Getting on that motorcycle and being gone for several weeks, even months, is like being able to breathe again.

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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...)