Friday, May 04, 2012

Riding the Straightest Roads in Central Minnesota

When you need to be somewhere you tend to take the modern highway.   A purpose designed and built concrete runway connecting large cities and states.  There are no intersections crossing this massive path.  No speed limits below fifty five miles per hour.  Outside the metro areas you can set your cruise control at a speed within the range of the general rate of flowing traffic and just roll along.  The Superslab.

In many cases you will find a series of roads running parallel to the superhighways.  Here in the midwest we call them frontage roads.  They have lower speed limits.  They have stop signs and take you to the little towns which the main arteries have been built to bypass.  Towns with family owned businesses slowly being displaced by box stores and convenience style gas stations.  Generally there's a core community you'll recognize by the homes built in earlier eras.  Like a wagon wheel whose spokes are naturally spreading outward, the centers of these town show patches of new homes on the outlying hillsides where farming families took the opportunity of lots of money to give up the family agribusiness.  I've known people who became millionaires with a single signature.

So the other morning, I got the idea in my head to take a succession of these roads to a town a bit of a distance away.  I hopped on the Vespa and took off.  It could not have been a better morning to ride.

I passed through one town and decided to visit a friend whose got a knack for building his own bikes.  He'll take old machines which have been put to pasture and restores them to reliable running condition.  And then he rides the heck out of em.  Sometimes he does a little custom work to suit his interests or chase a direction a particular model seems to have been headed.  Before some corporate accounting dept. told the designers they had to stay within a certain budget.  You know the story.  A concept is built, redesigns happen, things get added, others removed, and you end up with a bland machine which looks not too much different than all the other similar models.  Then an aftermarket company creates bolt-on kits to "customize" these machines.  It's good marketing and most of what aftermarket companies come up with is useful.  Often necessary.  Some is for show and that's alright too.  You probably realized I'm kind of a utility type of person a while ago.

Anyway, the latest machine my friend has been running and building is a...'79 I think it is(?) KZ650.  He bought the Kawasaki from my neighbor and had to bring it home on a trailer.  The engine needed minor work but turned out to have good compression.  Other bits were time worn and replaced.  The bike, good as they were in their day, was your basic Universal Japaese Motorcycle (UJM).  They were very good  machines, really.  Mid sized with enough pep and torque to handle the 55mph gas crunch superslabs of their day.  Even now, despite their age and given their deserved concessions, they're still capable mid displacement light tourers.

He was laying fiberglass over a mold for a cafe style seat when I got there. If you remember old Nortons and Guzzis, you'll recall a single seat racing inspired tailpiece. 

He found straight, downturned handlebars and added a bar and mirror to the left side.  The bike, in mid design stage if you will, is still primer grey.  The frame is a deep red which really offsets the polished aluminum of the engine and flat primer grey of the tank. 

He stripped out whatever it was Kawasaki hung beneath the seat, giving the whole machine an all business attitude.  The fenders are long gone.  And the orignal pipes have been replaced by a set donated by a Ninja and gathered into a Jardine cannister.  It's a bike you'd have to see.  One you'd want to ride.

Oh, and this Kaw' is kick start only.

"Lead the way," he told me.  So I did. 

We headed north along the first frontage road and followed it through one small town after another.

I kept thinking, man I didn't realize this road was so straight! 

We stopped for a bite at a Subway in one of those convenience style gas stations. 

"Man, what a perfect day to ride," he said.

" Boy am I glad you showed up this morning.  I would not have taken the time to do this if you didn't ride up," he said.

I felt better.  I was worried he'd be annoyed all the roads we'd been on were arrow stright. 

"Man, I'm just sorry I took us on all these boring straight roads."

"No worries.  We'll find the twisties another time."  He popped the last two or three bites worth into his mouth in one shot, chewed them down into manageable swallows and smiled. 

We got back onto the road and headed toward our lives' responsibilities.

Even though time constraints put us on the same road back, it felt a lot better.

I guess I'd forgotten being on any road on a bike is better than the alternative.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sometimes Group Rides, Sometimes Just bombing Around

Tonight was a night for a group ride.  I started a forum to encourage local riders to get together for some of the local rides.  But it's not the first time something like this has been done. 

Some years ago there was a group started by a gentleman who had started the idea here in town.  He did a lot of work to build a community out of scooterists.   A lot of effort goes into these sorts of things.  Unfortunately he got rid of his scooter and over time the group began to fragment.  I hope that someday he gets the itch to get another scooter. 

So I can't lay claim to doing something new in terms of starting a scooter riding group.  But I will try to continue the best of what he'd built in the time he rode and created what he had.

The group did Wednesday night rides throughout the riding season.  There were always a few and often quite a few people who showed up at the coffee house by the mall.  He also had a ride for the local food shelf.  We would get donations and canned goods and then ride out on one of the bigger treks of the season.

One year I think we had eleven scooterists ride for the food shelf run.  And many more showed up to give and support us.  He even managed to get us into the local paper!  That was quite a day. 

A friend and fellow scooterist brought the idea back to me enough times that I finally realized it would be the right thing to do.  To see if we could round up the old crew and invite new people to join us.  Technically we began at the end of last year.  Not the best time to start a riding group.  Most people were thinking about winter by the time we got "rolling".

This year's weather gave the impression that spring would start early and get warm fast.  Well it hasn't but we're still riding.  The Wednesday night rides starting at 6:30 and the Sunday even rides starting at 6:00 have commensed.

Cold?  Yes, it has been.  Wet?  Started out that way tonight.  But you know, the cold wasn't that bad and the rain turned into a dissipating drizzle by the time I got to our start locale, which is the McDonalds across from WalMart on highway fifteen.

Tonight we bombed around east of the Mississippi.  Through the back country of Sauk Rapids.  I'll have to check the maps before the next ride in that general direction because most of where we rode was, um, awfully straight.  Although we found a fun little stretch somewhere behind Mayhew lake.  I'll be calling on the maps to give us more interesting roads with some destinations in mind.