Saturday, December 13, 2014

Merry Christmas part II

Fog.  The bane of the rider.  A thick, wet, clammy-to-the-skin sensation.  In warm seasons it can be refreshing.  Somewhere in the forties though, fog can be debilitating.   When it's in the valleys of country roads in the summer, passing through it can make one a feel rush like flying on two wheels.  During the colder nights or after the "traditional" riding season has come to a close, it finds bare skin and teams up with it's evile brother Wind Chill.  Think of frozen snakes crawling up your arms and around your neck but you can't do anything about them until you stop the bike. 

There is no bad weather. Only bad clothing.

It's been warm here in Minnesota thus far this December.  Enough so that I hear riders discussing whether to dig their machines out of the corners of garages and sheds.

"Ya know, the gravel to the pole barn is almost dry.  If we get some sun it could clear enough lane to get the bike out of the yard..." 

This is Minnesota.  Normally, ice doesn't form and melt away after a day or two.  It becomes thick and craggy after brief melting periods followed by heavy equipment tracks jamming it into ankle spraining immovable seasonal stone.  Up here we chip away at it with hardened steel.  We pressure steam it out of our gutters and buy special electrical line to heat our roofs so the stuff doesn't build up under shingles and slowly tear them from the wood underneath.   Then we go snowmobiling.

This year has been warmer.  I think I recall having heard a solitary snowmobile go by after the snow event we had which dumped a little over a foot of the white stuff on us.  But that was a solid month past.  Steady warmth since has given way to clearing roads.  Now all we have to contend with is fog.

A young man inside me keeps asking the older guy if he still wants to ride,  You know, like you used to.  The other one, the one actually facing the younger one in the mirror reminds himself of the grey in his beard.  The pictures of his wife and children reflected from the wall behind him.  

These then are the questions:  Can you enjoy the ride without mentally abandoning attentiveness?  Will you forget to ride to the conditions?  Will you prepare by dressing appropriately for those conditions?  Is your bike, fresh out of dormancy, ready for a winter ride?

Lots to think about and an itch to scratch.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Merry Christmas!

The season of riding this last year felt short.  Incomplete.  As my children grow, decisions are made regarding how my time gets spent.   So in one sense, you lose one thing but gain another.  Trade offs are natural.  They're part of life.  In another sense, you can't help but miss a little of the time when you could be a bit more selfish.   When you could slip awayt on the bike for a ride without someone wondering when you'd be back. 

You don't get the time raising your kids back, so you better think about their future (and how it affects their world tomorrow) in the present.   My son likes to ride on the back of the Genuine but the Vespa doesn't have a backrest.  He also rides the scooter I rebuilt some years back, out on the country land my wife's parents own. 

I recently discovered my daughter likes vintage cars.  I mean, I finally realized just how much she likes them as we sat together watching Fast and Loud.   I told her to do well in school so she can own the ones she wants.  "I can do that..." came with a sidelong grin at me. 

Despite the riding season being low on miles added to the odometer, I had some fun and learned some things.

I learned to keep the feet in board when going down. On a scooter, my belief is that the rider is safer by staying on the scooter with the feet on the floor board.  Stay on that thing until it stops unless it's absolutely safer to dismount and get as far from the scooter as possible. 

I rode sopping wet gravel after a torrent and found myself on a dirt road.   Everything was going smoothly and I got cocky.  I picked up a little speed and the front end of the bike simply washed out.  I rode it into the mud because there wasn't anything else I could do at that point.  The truth is, I put myself into that situation with overconfidence.  My prize was to ride thirty miles home with the handlebar at the ten and four o'clock position.   A half blue, half brown Vespa scooter and half brown rider with the strangest hold on the bars.  Why isn't he turning right??

You get some strange stares when people see you ride by that way.

The bike survived, although cosmetically, I plan a little tlc.  Next year will bring what it brings. 

Ride safe,

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.