Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Don't Want A Pickle

Getting the helmet I wanted wasn’t easy, so this part should be even more fun: choosing my first bike. Actually, since I rode before this technically isn’t the first bike, but it will be the first I choose. By nature I am very analytical and as a result I want all the facts before I choose. So, I made some decisions upfront to narrow things down:

1.  Must only cost about $1K, don’t want to blow a lot of money on something I might drop. I am a beginner and I need something cheap to learn on not something expensive to worry about.

2.  I want a standard cruiser or a mid-sized touring. Don’t need/want a dual use or sport bike at all. Just not a crotch rocket kind of guy.

3.  I want it light (under 500lbs) and of reasonable power (500cc-750cc or so). I didn’t start driving by buying a Corvette, I started with a ‘62 Ford Fairlane. Some rules are universal. Also, I want to work on and improve technique not worry about wrestling a gorilla.

4.  No more than 30,000 miles on it and no older than 1982. Don’t want to deal with major over hauls or problems getting parts.

5.  Red if possible with no weird mural on the tank. I discussed the need for red before. I gotta look at the
tank, so it needs to be something I like. Too bad Van Gogh didn’t do tank art.

6.  The first bike I rode was a Honda, it was my Dad’s and he got it because of their reliability. I picked it for the same reason.

Based on those decisions, I came up with a short list that included the Silverwing, Nighthawk and Shadow. Nighthawk has faded out because there are just not that many showing up on eBay or Craig’s List within my price range. Now, I am down to two: Silverwing and Shadow. Basic specs on the two are as follows:

                        Silverwing       Shadow

Weight              478.5Lbs         465Lbs.

Wheel Base       58.9”                60”

Seat Height        30.5”               25.7”

Gears                   5                      6

Engine              674cc               749cc

Both have V Twin engines, are liquid cooled and shaft driven, all pluses in my mind.


  • The ability to be able to carry things, lots of things
  • Wind/weather protection courtesy of the front fairings
  • Radio, cruise control and other comforts
  • Comfortable seat with seat back
  • Looks huge
  • Has older radio system, so no CD or iPod
  • All the extra stuff could make a minor fall really bad


  • Looks like a solid classic cruiser
  • Can dress it up how I want to
  • Seat is lower, could affect visibility
  • Will need saddle bags, windshield and radio , so more $$$
Weather permitting,  this weekend I will be test riding two Silverwings.  Should give me lots more data to crunch.


Monday, October 26, 2009

It Ain't Just Middle Age Crazy

Why? Why after almost 3 decades of not riding would I suddenly want to pick up a dangerous hobby again having survived it the first go round? I am not the only one searching for the answer from me, but I am the only one listening to the rhetoric that I am using to try to explain it. After debating this in my mind over the past few years and with more specific focus in the last month or so, I can point to three things: Freedom, Control, and Fear.

Freedom: There is a certain feeling of complete and total freedom felt while cruising down the road on a bike --the sunshine -the beautiful scenery -the sound of the wind rushing by. It puts a smile on your face and raises your spirits like nothing else. This feeling may be one of the reason I enjoyed Alpine skiing so much. It is a similar feeling, but it only lasts as long as the ski run itself. Driving a convertible is similar, but not totally there. I think sky diving or bungee jumping might also be similar. Riding a bike is the long play version of this thrill.

Control: As I get older I realize there are fewer and fewer things I really have control over. My job, my government, my health, my destiny-- I may have influence over some of these but I am far from having any sort of control over them. In fact, I am shown daily how little control I have over any of them. On a bike the control is totally mine. From the brief movement of my body which causes the bike to act in a particular way, to the mechanisms that are activated by both feet and both hands. I become one with the bike and it an extension of me. I have ridden horses in the past but I never experienced the oneness between rider and horse that some people talk about. I feel this on a bike. Maybe this is part of what some people call middle age desperation. You realize how little influence you actually have so you reach for this things that make you truly feel like you have some sort of control to feel self actualized.

Fear: This is not fear of the bike or riding, this is fear of life and the approaching end of it without doing a few things that I have a deep desire to do. In the past two weeks, two more members of the my high school class (1977) have died. A good friend was recently diagnosed with cancer and another faced a brain tumor last year. Last year I had an event I refer to as my recent excitement that ended in me getting a heart stent. I am now just thirteen years away from the age my mother passed on. I am eight years older than Elvis was when he died and only one year younger than Michael Jackson bit the big one. Lots of stuff pointing to my mortality and the fragility of life.

Even with all that against me, I am not a fatalist. I plan on living a good long time and enjoying my grand kids and great grand kids. That is part of the reason I find this necessary, I don't want to be a embittered old man who never grabbed his dreams or was prevented from doing so - I want to be the old man with great tales from grabbing the dreams and holding on for the ride.

I had a boss once who had the following quote hanging on her wall:
"Life is not about getting to the end of it in a well preserved body, but rather to slide in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, screaming "HOLY SHIT what a ride!"

Too true.
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´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸><(((º>¸´¯`·.¸><(((º>¸·´¯`·.¸><(((º>  262

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fighting 'da Man

I have always been a rebel but a rebel within reason,  preferring to be an independent non-conformist rather than a group non-conformist.  Also, I was somewhat resistant to “the man” but having been an Army brat and later joining the Air Force myself,  I was not Abby Hoffman either.  I usually just questioned the rules and tried to change the ones I did not like.  This attitude brought on this event:

In an Air Force dormitory in late 1981 located in the heart of Germany, I sat holding an ice cube against my left ear lobe. I had already had 3 shots of tequila up to that point, not as a pain killer but just because some things at that point in my life seemed to go better with tequila; I was waiting on a needle to be suitably sterilized by a Zippo. The young lady whose name escapes me now (she was the roommate of my current flame and had an incredible body) was trying to reassure me as she put a towel on my shoulder to catch the blood. She carefully dried my ear, gave it a quick swipe with an alcohol-soaked paper towel, and then used a felt tip pen (Sharpies had not been invented yet) to draw a dot on my ear lobe to serve as a target. 

I was handed an apple (the normal procedure called for a potato but we did not have one) and was told to hold it against the back of my ear.  I did so and slid down in the chair so I was slouching at an angle as if I was sitting in a recliner.  Straddling me,  my surgeon pressed herself against me which unintentionally served as a total distraction while she drove the needle through.  The morning after I would swear that it had not been a needle but was actually a railroad spike – a dull railroad spike.

She remained straddling me while holding my earlobe to stop the flow of blood.  When the blood stopped flowing out of my ear lobe, she took the diamond stud earring from between her teeth (so much for all the sterilization efforts), removed the backing, and then made several attempts to pass it through my earlobe.   She was having issues trying to find the exit hole after sliding the earring into the hole in the front of my ear.  Since she was lying on top of me at that point and squirming during her attempts,  I did not complain a whole lot during the procedure, even though it took her several tries to find the hole (yes,  I did make those jokes at the time).  Finally, she smiled and said “Voila” and stood up.  I was handed a mirror and looked at the handiwork.  Not bad.

Keep in mind this was the early 80s and having a pierced ear at that time raised questions about your sexuality; so this was a bold move.  Europe was a little more progressive about style so I felt a bit freer doing this (even though I was in uniform).  Also,  I was never one of those who wore an earring full-time since I wasn’t trying to make some sort of statement.  

In the years since I got it, I have worn an earring occasionally when I felt the urge.  I guess it had been a long time since I had worn it because when I put one in last weekend it took my son until late in the day to even notice it,  then he questioned when I had it done.  When I told him “28 years ago”,  he looked surprised.  It’s nice for the old man to able to shock the kid now and then.  

That’s me,  battling the man even though I are now he.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Final Showdown

After we ate it was crunch time - time to show off all the skills we had learned over the past two days. SilverWing, Blondie and I did not have to take the road or written test. I was doing it just see how I measured up, SilverWing mentioned something about better insurance rates for getting the completion card, I think Blondie was using it as a self test as well. So PreMed and my son were the only two with something riding on it.

Turns, slaloms, passing, hazard avoidance, and everything else we had learned all came into play. I was watching my son and he was doing really well. Then the dreaded Figure 8. I was the last to go and on the second left I pulled a Barney Rubble, letting my left foot drop to the ground because I thought I was going to tilt. The rest of the maneuver was flawless and inside the painted box.

The only other thing I had an issue with was the Outside-Inside-Outside maneuver on a curve. Just as I entered the curve, my left foot slipped on the peg and I could hit the gear shift correctly to complete the shift into second. So, I did not think my speed was fast enough but not much I could do about it. I had problems a few times with the pegs being a little small for my feet and my foot not being at the correct angle to break or shift. I would fix it if I owned the bike, but since these were loaners - I just dealt with it.

After the last trial we all parked our bikes and watched as PreMed and Dharma compared notes. They came and old us that we all passed. A brief moment of cheering then it was announced that my son had done one point better than I. No ego here, I was proud of him. EMT said letting the foot down on the Figure 8 cost me. We then packed up and headed back to the dealership for the written test.

Blondie skipped out on the written test, so there was just 4 of us. The test was multiple choice and the questions were very easy if you read the book. I don't think anyone missed any questions. EMT gave us our completion cards and bid us farewell.

Waking out the door, I felt comfortable with my basic skills and knowledge. I was ready to ride for real.
Sent from my Android phone

Sunday, October 18, 2009

...and Now Back To Our Program, Already In Progress

Hmm movies and ballet,  I seem to have gotten a little side tracked,  so back to the tale of the Rider's Edge Course:  Sunday monring came early and it was time for our second day on the range.  My son and I grabbed coffee at McDonald’s and headed for the range. The morning was very foggy and as we pulled into the lot, it was a pretty cool view: the bikes sitting ready in formation surrounded by the fog.

Things had cooled off the night before so the fog was being caused by the temperature rising, so riding would be comfortable. When everyone got there we mounted up and pulled to the far side of the range to start the day’s exercises. I was surprised Blondie showed up, since she had bought her Harley the day before I figured she would be out riding it, but she stuck out the course with the rest of us.

Because of the cold from the night before, the bikes were cold and hard to keep running. EMT had us line up for the first exercise (tight turns, quick stops and handling down shifts for curves). My son went first and after stalling our repeatedly finally got moving, PreMed was next and had just as many problems getting the bike moving. Finally EMT called a halt and told us all to just do some laps to warm up the bikes and us. So, we did. I needed the warm up to get in the groove again, to feel the gears shifting and to get the comfort in balancing the bike. I also enjoyed just riding without worrying about new maneuvers.

After we warmed up, we all did the exercise no problems there so we took our first break. During the break Dharma showed up. Very nice lady who was a student instructor. She reminded me a Jenna Elfman, both in appearance and demeanor, hence the name. We did another exercise that had two quick stops in it. After the first run through I got it down pat. I could now stop the bike in total control and using a downshift to to start the slowdown.  Riding is a lot of fun,  but like in skiing the ability to stop without wiping out should never be under rated.

We practiced passing and obstacle avoidance. No problem there either, I was getting good at maneuvering the bike tightly and being in better control. Then came the Figure 8.

I have no idea when I will actually need to do a Figure 8 on a bike, but it was part of the course and the test so I had to learn it. We were doing this inside of a rectangular box about 30’ long by 20’ wide. My problems coming into the initial left turn was going too slow and then putting my foot down when I felt the bike leaning too far. The turn back to the right was okay, but it also took me out of the box when I did it. EMT worked with me on it, most of the problem was keeping my head up and speed. Then on the last go round I did it (keeping my head up and at speed) and I kept it in the box – in fact way inside the box. This was the hardest exercise for me and one I plan on practicing when I get on a bike again.

We practiced running over objects (2X4s) and doing more curves. Both were easy, I was surprised how easy it was running over something, I thought it would be worse than it was. My curves were golden. Inside/Outside, shifting up or down in the middle, good acceleration coming out – I was on the money. I really hated getting stuck behind PreMed since he seemed to have so many problems with stalling the bike out. It made things slower and delayed my turn – made me feel like I was kid waiting on the swings at recess… playground anxiety.

At one point Blondie was riding in front of me and I noticed that she had a cute butt. Now this is not Earth shattering information but it was interesting that it was 2 days before I noticed. Just an observation – or I guess lack of observation (to a point).

It was different having two instructors on the course, we were getting better feedback and more information on our progress. Dharma was a lot of help. She was very encouraging and gave me a lot of tips and tricks on braking and corners.

We broke for lunch and when we got back we would do the riding portion of the test.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Freedom Ballet

It is like a ballet.

Standing next to the bike,  I reach across with my right hand and place it on the handle bar and slowly squeeze the brake.  I throw my right leg over the bike and lower myself on to the bike straddling it.   I put my left hand on the handle bar and turn the front wheel to the right and using my left foot I push the kick stand  backwards and out of the way.  I can now feel the weight of the bike and know I control it.  I reach down with my left hand and turn the gas lever to the on position,  then I turn the key to the on position.  With my left hand on the handle bar I squeeze the clutch in and with my right hand I push the kill switch to the on position and then push the starter.  I feel the engine start below me,  I can feel the vibrations of it on the insides of my legs as I turn the throttle a few times with my right hand.  Using my left foot I press the gear lever down until it clicks into first gear and then I start to release the clutch while turning the throttle to rev the engine.  As I feel the bike hit the friction zone I lift my right foot up and put it on the foot peg and turn the throttle a little more gas to start forward motion.    As I start to roll,  I lift my left foot up and place it on the foot peg,  position my toe under the gear lever, and release the clutch with my left hand to fully engage the gear.  As I move faster and the timing is right,  I squeeze the clutch again with my left hand and lift my left toe to put the bike in second gear.   As soon as I feel the gear click into place I slowly release the clutch with my left hand.  I feel the stability of balance and power as I move forward more quickly and embrace the freedom that riding brings.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

B Movies, French Kissing, and 2001

I grew up on a series of Army bases as a kid.  In the early 70s, we lived on Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and our house was located about 4 blocks from the base theater.  As a result of the short distance, I was allowed to spend a lot of formative years sitting in the dark watching movies.  Then on Friday and Saturday nights at 11PM, the theatre showed B movies and Karate flicks for just $1.  What a deal!

Before too long all the kids of my age group were attending the movies en mass because our parents let us roam the base since they considered it safe.  So, even though I was not close to getting a driver’s license yet, I was taking girls to movies and had up to two hours in the dark to explore my uneasy transition into adolescence.  Because of this, a lot of my milestone memories are tied two ways.  Some memories were related to music (my first slow dance was to King Harvest’s Dancing in the Moonlight), and others were bound to movies (first French kiss during the psychedelic scene in  2001: A Space Odyssey )

As a result of the cheap late shows,  I saw all of Bruce Lee’s films (always guaranteed to have one topless scene) and a lot of B horror movies like Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? , spaghetti westerns like They Call Me Trinity and of course a few motorcycle movies like Chrome and Hot Leather.

Chrome and Hot Leather was a  good guy/bad guy movie which featured the good guys also riding bikes,  which was unusual for the time period.  It was a poorly made and badly acted exploitation movie,  no argument there -- it was B movie at its best.  But the scene that stuck with me (aside from a young Cheryl Ladd in her first movie) was the scene where the hero and his buddies were learning to ride motorcycles.   It stuck with me because it reminded me a bit of my first ride and because it was funny.  It also crossed my mind when I decided to start riding again because I didn't want my first ride to be like theirs, which is how I ended up in the Harley rider’s course.

Okay, so I took a long way around to explain one of the reasons I took the course.  It was fun reminiscing especially about my first slow dance (thanks Terri) and first French kiss (thanks Mary Ellen).

BTW I only saw Easy Rider in April of 2009,  just never seemed to get around to it before.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Last Day In The Classroom

When we got back to the dealer, Blondie was straddling a shiny Sporster. Apparently, she was going to buy it but was retaking the road part of the course to make sure she remembered how to ride from the year before.

We covered the rest of the book to include carrying passengers. EMT said it was very difficult to do until you were an experienced rider and had trained the passenger. He recommended riding for a full year alone before you tried it.

The third time I rode my Dad's Suzuki, I carried my first passenger. She was pressed tight against me and was holding on tight with arms and legs wrapped around me, so it was like being one entity instead of two. I don't recall any issues, the only thing I remembered was the bike laid into curves better due to the added weight I guess God does watch out for stupid teenagers.

We did the last of the exercises and then called it a night.

Headed home with my left forearm a little sore (from using the clutch) and feeling very good about how well I had done.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finding Joy On Two Wheels

After our slalom runs we took a break. There was a small picnic table and EMT had a cooler with drinks. Since the rain had started to subside we all stripped out of our rain gear as we grabbed drinks. I looked around and everyone except Blondie had a smile on their face. I related my feeling that the slaloms had reminded me of skiing and my son nodded in agreement. Both Silverwing and Premed agreed it was the most fun we had since the class started. Blondie gave a short nod along with a shy smile.

We were given a small riding notebook of tips and information that also included space in the back for notes. Whenever we took a break EMT would ask us a question to answer there but we were not asked to provide any of the answers later. As I thumb through the book now I wish I had written down the questions as well as the answers. I can guess at some but the only thing I can tell for sure is when I stopped being scared of dropping the bike and started enjoying the riding and learning new skills.

After our break we hit the range again doing more slaloms and something called how slow can you go. That exercise was to show you how much control you could have over the bike by just using the clutch and how slowly you could go without falling over. I could do it well, but ended up at one point getting stuck behind Premed. He may have been riding a bike on his own for awhile; but he had a lot of problem stalling out the Buells we were riding. So I ended up spending a lot or time waiting on him to get it started and moving again. Silverwing did not stall out as much but seemed to be doing everything in slow motion. Blondie was the exact opposite doing things quickly like she had somewhere to go. My son was doing a great job and seemed to be picking it all up quickly and enjoying it. Overall I felt like I learned the skills and was doing okay, I did stall out now and then, but that went away after a bit.

One of the most useful things I learned that day came at the end and that was the quick stop. You rode up with the bike in second gear, then at a point you down shifted and hit both brakes bringing the bike to a stop in about 15 feet. The first time I used too much front brake and it jerked to a stop. But then I got the balance of front and rear brakes down along with synching the down shift and was able to stop in about half of what was allowed – and it was a solid stop without skid or losing control. It felt very good to be able to do this without fear of dropping the bike or going over the handle bars.

A little after 1 we packed up and went to a late lunch, then we all headed back into the classroom for some more book learnin’