Saturday, September 28, 2013

Riding Safely in Critterville

Have you ever thought about where the majority of those critters come from when you see them about to dart into the road ahead of you?

I'm not talking about suburban rides versus country rides.  Or rides past or through woods versus fields either.  This is the moment of truth.  The last chance you get to scan the road before you to catch that reflective flash, that outline of fur standing at the edge of the tarmac.

I've spoken about this phenomenon with a few friends and the observation seems to be universal.  Here in the northern Midwest U.S., road crossing animals are on the right side of the road more often than I ever see them trying to cut in front of me from my left.  I have no idea why this is, but it's been a consistent piece of data for me.  They almost always come from the right.

Which doesn't seem to make sense because an animal could be on either side of the road at any given moment, right?

Oddly, out here in the country I've seen critters cross the other way, from their own "right" side when no traffic was present yet risk their lives by attempting to cross from their "left".  I can't put a reason to it but realized long ago that I ride prepared for this as yet unexplained observation.

I ride as close to the middle of the road as I can whenever possible.  More reaction time is what I'm after and so far this system has worked for me.  The critters almost always try to cross from my right.

I can see someone looking to contradict me and that's fine.  My experiences won't mirror everyone else's riding experiences.  I just thought it would be worth writing about why I ride toward the middle of the road whenever I can.  Especially from dawn to dusk.  I also slow way down during those hours. 


Wednesday, May 08, 2013


Over the long winter I thought about what I might want to do this season.  Places I'd like to go.  Places which were a bit of a ride from here.

Of course a man can rationalize any number of reasons to get the bigger Vespa in order to get to those great riding roads in the first place.  But eventually he needs to be honest with himself.  The roads nearest him are just as good as the roads people from other places people have talked about.  They're out there.  You can find em.  It's a matter of exploring in your own back yard.

I've had a bit of opportunity to ride some roads I didn't know existed.  Roads right off the main drags.  Little used by everyday traffic because they really don't go anywhere in particular.

One such road is a numbered highway.  It's a loop, more or less, off another main artery heading out of St Cloud.  A good portion of this road is pretty straight.  And then it gets fun.  And there are roads it intersects which might be just as plausible to a guy on a little one fifty scooter.

Forty miles seems to be about the right distance to clear my thoughts.  To get into that better frame of mind.  More is better but forty seems to put me where I feel refreshed after the ride. 

Yesterday's ride took me onto a gravel washboarded road for a couple miles.  Fifteen to twenty mph is all I could go.  It was a matter of striking the balance between a loose controlled sliding sensation and keeping the pace up enough to lessen the bounce of the taxed suspension.   I really don't understand why everyone wants stiffer suspension on their bikes for a number of reasons and this is certainly one of them. 


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

City Rides, Country Rides and Smiles

Have you been out riding over the summer?  Busy but still able to fit in a few of those really good rides you were hoping for?  Good.  No one wants to look back on summer and feel like none of the fun stuff ever got its due.

Some of us really get a kick out of the city rides.  Boulevards and cruising down quiet neighborhood streets.  Seeing families out walking, biking.  Smelling a charcoal grill and trying to locate the source.  Little kids waving to us and us waving back.  Smiles all around.

In the evenings the lines of street lamps are glowing guides, leading us alongside a river or through a long parkway.  People spinning Frisbees to the dark silhouettes of happy dogs racing to intercept them.  Trees lush with summer, growing over some of those lamps, creating interesting shadows across streets and lawns.

There's the smell of night.  Things cool down as the sun sets and the humidity increases ever so slightly.  Dew on your windscreen and seat, fog in the low lying areas and near waterways.  A familiar pungency. The first few hours of the evening bring out the bugs and they slap your helmet and windscreen as you ride.

Out in the country riding is best when the sun is still shining.  You can see for miles.  Your peripheral vision is as clear and bright as your focus.  Lakes far off in the distance beg you to find out which roads might take you to them.  Climbs and drop-offs become the tang to the taste of the ride.  Vast crop fields bow and wave to you in the breeze.  Golden stalks of wheat and tasseled corn, the deep green of soy and alfalfa.  Hardly a stop sign in sight, you just cruise along at comfortable speeds while new horizons open up to you with each new crest of a hill.

City and country rides.  They're certainly different.  If you live in a big enough city, just getting out of it could be a ride in itself to some folks.  Others are drawn to the downtowns and suburban motorways.   The choices and reasons for individual preferences are as diverse as we are.  So long as the places we ride evoke in us the smiles we're after, it really doesn't matter where we choose to ride.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Weather Patterns

Sometimes a person has a thought which ruminates in the background of a certain subject matter.  Some idea which doesn't really come to light until a certain moment.  And then that person says something like, "You know, I've had this idea for a while now and..."

I've had one of those thoughts work its way to the surface lately.  Something I was putting aside since the spring.  Maybe longer.

I find myself not wanting to ride at night anymore.   Having to keep a keen eye on the shoulders for critters for example.  Because they don't get noticed unless you see their eyes.  A greyish brown furry thing wanders into the roadway ahead and you have to avoid it one way or another.  Yourheadlight beam bores a tunnel into the darkness and even when it's bright and wide, you're still riding down that tunnel.  What's to see besides what that headlight illuminates?

I don't know if headlights have gotten so bright that it's an either/or propsition or something else is going on but within your beam, you see things very well.  Look outside that beam and the darkness uttterly envelopes everything else.  There is no transition.  On the old machines I rode, and maybe even some that weren't so old, the old sealed beams were enough to give a rider what the rider needed in order to ride while the sun was down.  And yet not so bright that looking outside the artifical illumination leaves you dark-struck, your vision unable to recuperate between the two diametric light conditions.

In the spring I could point out that sand and salt, not yet washed from the roads meant steering corrections weren't guaranteed to unfold as  intended.  You want all the available natural light to see where that gravel and winter residue was so that you could slow to a safe speed to negotiate through it.

In the summer I rode at night but I promised myself this night riding thing would come to an end one way or another.  I just don't feel safe riding at night lately.

Then the autumn.  Or late summer, really.  I've been riding new roads.  Places I meant to go but haven't due to all sorts of reasons.  Mostly because I just haven't had the time until recently.  But opportunities have come during daylight hours, strangely enough.  And because of this I've been able to follow some of the chains of lakes here in central Minnesota.  And they aren't just beautiful roads to traverse, the secenery of this region is worth seeing.   Something you won't experience by riding at night. 

It's alright when the world you live in sometimes influences your decisions.  A sailboat needs to tack with the wind.  Its crew succeeds best when they work with rather than against weather patterns.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Size Matters

When you ride a bigger bike, you might see smaller displacement bikes as only slight variations on each other.  You might say, for example, that not enough power is not enough power.  That it takes X to be truly satisfied.  And you'd be right.  From your perspective.

But if you came from the smallest of motorcycles and moved up through the displacement ranks to mid sized motorcycles, you might see each increase as sizeable.  And from that perspective, you would feel justified in your view.

So is one view more correct than the other?  I think it depends upon the individual.  Some people insist on the leading edge of performance based upon their pocketbooks.  They'll get the most they can afford and upgrade for improvements over stock.  No matter what level they start at, these folks enjoy getting the most out of a given design.  I can appreciate that.

Others will ride the next model up which offers stock performance comparable to the lower model with upgrades.  I would tend in that direction myself.  

The old saying, "There's no replacement for displacement" still rings true.  In cars, it's about the edge of performance.  In small displacement motorcycles and scooters, it seems to be an effort to create similar performance as larger machines at a much decreased overal cost.  The cost for the improvements sometimes seems too high to me.  You get the increase, but you also risk a less reliable engine.  I couldn't explain all the reasons why except to say that we can't have it all when it comes to upgrades.  You still lack the torque most of us really are after even though the horsepower has been increased.

I'm a back roads, country lanes kind of guy.  55mph is the usual speed limit and people often travel a bit past that.  So a 150cc Vespa, running on reformulated crud (ethanol) won't have as much juice as it could running on straight gasoline, but that's another story.  Still, it is just a 150cc.  In the greater scheme it probably means naught to most.  Unless you ride a machine on the edge of the place where that minute performance difference would actually make a hill of beans' difference.  Say, climbing some of these back roads hills where dropping ten miles per would become dropping just a few miles per hour on clean gasoline. 

See the problem?  Counting the small ways to get close to the solution doesn't mean I've achieved the solution.  And I've got a pretty good idea what the solution really is.  Even Vespa solved it.  It took them a complete redesign to their thinking and began a whole new line of machines which are still ever growing in displacement. 

Kit a 150cc and lose money (and reliability if I do it wrong) or save and buy a 200cc or greater large-frame modern Vespa.  The second choice is factory built to do exactly what I want it to be able to do.  It doesn't seem like much; a matter of 50 or so odd cubic centimeters of displacement.  But it is.  Size really does matter.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

AreYou Satisfied?

It wasn't that long ago (or was it) that 55mph was a national speed limit.  One that's been increasing since before I was a rider.  I can't tell you if this is a good or bad thing.  The few minutes shaved by "allowing" travellers to kick it up a notch really doesn't seem all that advantageous.  Maybe it's just me.

It takes a little disipline to leave early.  To get there before you need to be there.  It even takes a little discipline to just get there on time. 

Now here's the weird thing.  At least to me anyway.

When we had slower vehicles and lower speed limits, we didn't blame the NHTSA.  We just left for the destination earlier.  I'm pretty sure our wanting more powerful cars and two wheelers had nothing to do with getting there on time.  It was always more about style and having the available horsies under the hood or below the tank as insurance you could blast off when you wanted to show off a little. 

Beating someone else seems an inherent characteristic of the human condition.  People are always beating me in my 14 year old Camry.  Even when I'm trying not to be beaten.  So badly.

For a while I was into trying to race cars off the line on my LX.  Well I got taken pretty well a few times so that cured that.  Eleven horsepower.  Eleven

Overall the bike satisfies me.  There are some niggles, like a struggle to get up medium to large hills.  I kind of have to adjust my riding to accomodate what the bike can and can't do.  Sixty mph on the back roads might be the norm for a while yet or it may not. 

For me it would have to be increasing torque.  That would solve much for me.  But can I live with it as it is? 



Monday, August 13, 2012

The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes

And the Roads which Take You Around Them.

  You can try to predict how a riding season here in the north woods might go, but you really can't be sure.    The nation suffered an incredible stretch of heat this summer.  The kind of heat I won't ride in anymore.  But for some evening rides, I had to wait until the heat broke.  

I got to thinking about where I've been riding.  And where I've been meaning to ride.

There's an area I've been meaning to explore.  A motorcycle store is in a town right off the expressway.  You can see the building from the freeway.  The place sells Triumphs and BMWs among other brands.  They also carry a good selection of gear.

So I decided to take the back roads and wend my way to this motorcycle store.  Only I wasn't real attentive to the time.  Apparently I was having too much fun to notice I wasn't getting all that much closer for all the riding I was doing.  I arrived ten minutes after they closed.  And I wasn't the only one.  A few others rolled into the lot during my stretch-and-drink.  I chatted with one fellow restoring his father's KZ650 who'd done pretty much the same thing I had; got lost in the spirit of the ride.  On the way home, I stretched that ride even longer. Once or twice I was completely disoriented as clouds blotted away the sun.  At one point I rode better than two miles on a dirt road.  The lushest, densest, greenest overgrowth on a country lane I can remember.  If anyone saw me they had to know I was lost.  And they could probably tell I didn't care that I was lost either.

These roads around the lakes.  They're the slow way to get somewhere.  Only the locals and other riders seem to enjoy them.  They almost seem like a natural barrier to folks in a hurry.  Which is fine, because they're fantastic to ride at legal speeds.  And it isn't just these roads.  A curve can surprise you with an incredible view.  A lake with sailboats and fisherman for example.  Rolling hills of wheat and tassled corn.  tracts of woods such a dark shade of green they actually appear blue. 

It's a slightly different heading on the compass.  A new angle on the ride, so to speak (sorry-couldn't resist).

To the roads around the lakes.