Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The future of battery technology is here TODAY!

After a very long winter, the sun shone long enough for me to consider taking my bike out from under wraps and testing the new Shorai battery.  My bike has been parked since late November and I can normally expect to have it out again by late March, in most years.  The winter of 2013-2014 wreaked havoc on the east coast and the midwest, and I am relieved to finally get back on the road.

I got the Shorai battery, along with a charger over the winter months.  My bike’s old, heavy lead acid battery was on a battery tender in the bike all winter long.  A few days before last weekend I pulled the new Shorai battery out of the box, along with its tender, and set it up to charge.  The batteries come almost fully charged but, as I had the time, I wanted to make sure that I started the season with a fresh, fully-charged battery.  

IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you plan to use a Lithium-ion battery for your motorcycle, make sure to buy a charger/battery tender that is made for this type of battery. It IS possible to overcharge one of these NEW types of batteries using the OLD types of chargers.  Make sure you upgrade your charger!

Shorai makes a tender that clicks into place effortlessly, through the use of a connector. There’s no guess work, no need for clamps on terminals.  It’s a “smart” charger, as well, and gives full indications of the battery status and when it’s completed.  Mine was fully charged in about 4 hours.

Saturday dawned with the promise of a near-60 degree (F) day and a short HONEYDO list.  For kicks, I rolled my bike out of the garage to fire it up, only to find that the old battery, which had been on a traditional tender, was DEAD.  Morte. Finito. Unreal.  The dang charger had been glowing green at me for the past 4 months or more.  So much for old technology!  Now to pull that dead weight out of the bike.  If you’ve ever tried to finagle an old, heavy battery out of a battery box with just your fingertips, you’ll appreciate how much fun I had.  With the old battery out of the way, the new unit slipped easily into place.  

The Shorai LI technology allows for a battery that is a fraction of the weight of a traditional batteries.  This is critical for anyone wanting better performance out of their motorcycle.  I can see how this weight advantage/savings would be critical to anyone doing any racing, or simply with a sport bike and looking to maximize their top speed.  On my cruiser, laden down with a heavy tool kit (and other baggage), the weight savings are appreciated, but less necessary.

Shorai provides everything you need to install the battery.  I hit a small snag on the install though.  The negative terminal connected easily but, when I got to the positive terminal, I saw that the positive lead had tabs around the edges, to assure a good connection.  Shorai provided adapters (see below) to allow for different mountings at the terminals, but none of these were a perfect fit.  I knew what the solution was; it just took me a half hour of fiddling (and to be sure that I had no other options) before I bent two of the tabs up and out of the way.  I finished the job by capping the charger cable end and attaching that to the bike with a zip tie.  Now, if I ever want to charge this battery, all I need to do is to reach into the bike and pull out this cable. Easy!  With the new battery installed, my bike fired up as if it had just been run.

Once the battery was installed, I set about putting the seats back in place and doing a light cleaning, to remove the accumulated dust.  While the bike could have used a good soapy wash, I was too eager to get out while I still had time.  I took a 30 mile ride on some local back roads, just to see how the bike was running.  Everything was great and, in my mind, I knew that I was 5 pounds lighter (thanks to the new battery) and therefore that much quicker.

If you want to lighten your load, improve your track times or just upgrade to the latest is battery technology, look into what Shorai has to offer.  There’s a battery for just about every motorcycle make and model and something for your other toys, as well.

I hope it’s a very long riding season this year.  We’ve waited so long since our last rides that I feel like I never want the riding season to end, ever again.  I’ll see you out on the road soon.

If you want more info on Shorai batteries, click the link in the first paragraph or use the QR code below.  If you have any questions about my experience, let me know in the comments field and I will get back to you. Thanks.  Have a safe riding season! 

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The best (made up) story I never got to tell...

I had this thing removed from my forehead this past week, frozen off with liquid nitrogen. It had started as a rough spot, barely larger than a pimple, above my right eyebrow, and before I knew it, I had this darkish discoloration that looked more like a scar than anything.  I let it go for a couple of years but, as I regularly see a dermatologist, was not overly concerned. Sun damage, she said.  So, I let it go.

End of 2013 rolls around and I go in for my annual derma check-up and we discuss the “spot”.   I tell the doc I’m tired of it and she tells me that she has to biopsy it first, to make certain that it’s not cancerous.  I agree, she jabs a needle into my forehead and numbs me up. Before I know it, she’s putting a stitch in my head above the eyebrow, and I go home with a Clifford the Big Red Dog Band-Aid protecting the new wound.  Good news, it’s NOT cancer.  But I walk around for a week with a stitch in my forehead telling everyone that my wife stuck me there with a fork (like in Hot Tub Time Machine).

Later, I have to go back to get this thing frozen off.  No Novocain this time, she just whips out her little spray gun, the size of a small butane torch and sprays the area a couple of times with the freeze ray.  It stings a little and then it burns a lot.  I go on my merry way, watching this in the vanity mirror of my car, getting redder and redder.  I read all the notes and take good care of this but still see it changing into a prominent scab above my manly (hairy) eyebrow .  I figure I need a story, should anybody ask.  So, I concoct this semi-believable tale, for just such an occasion…Yet nobody asks.  Here it is, for whatever reason (fun?).

Office Manager:  “What happened to your forehead?”
Me:  “My wife stabbed me in the head with a No. 2 pencil.”
Office Manager:  “WHAT???”

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve (2013) and we’re playing Pictionary with two other couples and we’re having a few drinks.  What the heck, it’s New Year’s Eve, right?  We’re all competitive but having fun and making fun of each other’s bad guesses and generally having a good time.  It’s getting louder and louder but everyone’s laughing and enjoying themselves.   It’s our turn and Stephanie is doing the drawing.  The clue is “melanoma”.  She starts to draw these squiggly lines.  She draws an arm, with a spot on it.  I call freckle.  She shakes her head no and keeps drawing.  She draws an irregularly shaped blob and I’m calling out anything.  Blob, poop, you name it.  The clock continues to wind down and finally she draws a lower case “c” and right next to it she draws a capital “C”, and points to the larger letter.  There’s three seconds left and she’s tapping the pad madly with the tip of the pencil expectantly, fervently.  I’m out of ideas at this point but, just as the timer buzzes a neuron somewhere deep in my brain fires and this idea rushes forth (FOR THE WIN) and I shout out “C--T!”     And that’s when she stabbed me.

Seriously, it would have made a good story for the office (you don’t know my office) but, alas, no one asked me.  The scab will be gone by next week and I’ll never have had the chance to make people gasp, laugh and wonder.  Except perhaps for you, dear reader.  Happy New Year.  Don’t forget the sun block.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Last ride of 2013

This year didn't turn out like I had planned, riding-wise.  At the start of the season, there's SO much hope and anticipation.  You tell yourself that you're going to be that guy who rides every day and to everything.  Like the stereotype of the newly-released convict, we tell ourselves that we're going to "party" with our bikes non-stop.  Reality is the bitch-slap most of us get.

I didn't ride to work every day, I had too many excuses.  Don't tell Andy Fine (of Aerostich), but I copped out.  It was too wet, or too hot or too something. As the season wore on, I told myself that the bike was there for my convenience.  And sometimes, it just wasn't convenient.

As the season wore on, and everyone's schedules got more hectic, it just became a whole lot easier to just ride with Ms. Rocket and/or to add Pinkie into the mix.  That's Ms. Rocket's Honda VT750 below, a reliable little bike.

Weekend riding is another thing. We had lots of great weekends with friends, our informal crew.  The last remnants of the Amherst (NH) Motorcycle Club are still about, and that's who I rode with yesterday.

Knowing that I ought to winterize the bike, I was concerned that both bikes had been sitting for about a month.  Yep, late in the season was when things got crazy for me and I didn't ride much, after an epic weekend to New Brunswick, Canada to ride with Faceyman, Luc and their buddies.  That was the highlight of my summer and a trip surely to be repeated.

When I bumped in Manny, he mentioned a ride on Saturday. Here was the perfect excuse to burn off that stale gas.  With temps forecast to be in the mid-50s, we had the perfect day for a last ride.  Arriving at the meeting place in the center of Amherst, we stood around for a bit.  Not many bikes out at that hour.  Ray, the ride organizer, was there on his H-D, and we waited for Manny, chatting while we waited.

We headed west, towards Vermont, riding the hilly, twisty back roads of New Hampshire.  Our indirect route to Brattleboro gave us lots of scenic back roads.  We passed ponds and lakes covered in skim ice.  The chilly morning finally gave in to a sunnier, but not overly warm day.  Still, we were properly dressed for the weather and only stopped once, for a cup of coffee and a bio break.  The first place that we stopped was a small convenience store/gas station which sold (among other things) gigantic Snickers bars and Reese's PB cups.  I was tempted, but didn't feel like dropping $14+ on a candy bar and the inevitable diabetic coma.

We eventually made it to Brattleboro and the Whetstone Station, a brew pub sitting above the CT River. Food was okay, the beer was better.  After a leisurely lunch, we played Beat the Clock, to get home before dark.  Of course, that didn't mean a direct route home, just a quicker pace.  In the shadows, cast by the large pines, the temps dropped quickly.

Both Ms. Rocket and I had the opportunity to put our braking systems to the test yesterday.  Mine, on our way to the meeting place, when an inattentive cager pulled halfway across an intersection, without checking for oncoming (me) traffic.  A little skid, some unfriendly gestures and words in my helmet, was all.

Similar for Ms. Rocket, as we crested a hill into the midst of a recent car wreck, the car still sideways across the road with the occupants trying to sort out what just happened to them.  She did a great job of stopping short of Ray's rear fender.

We made it home before dark, after making one last stop to top off the tanks. Today, I'll add fuel stabilizer attach the battery tenders.

So, there it is, the season is done.  All that's left is to clean the bikes and cover them.  I wrote less this year than I have in many years.  Maybe I rode less too.  I'd need to get out the service records to confirm that.  I had some great rides with great friends, though. And that's what this motorcycle thing is all about, anyhow.

Until next time, next year or until I start to fantasize about that cross-country ride (I'm reading Ghost Rider, by Rush drummer Neil Peart), I'll see you.  In the meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter or Facebook.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Revisiting old haunts/April 2013

Winters are long in New Hampshire, no one who lives here would disagree. Most make the best of it, by keeping active with winter activities, like skiing, snowmobiling or ice fishing. For motorcyclists, winter is the dreaded season, interrupted only by the occasional motorcycle show.

If you're a native resident, you probably don't mind the natural selection of insects that are common to this area. When I first moved here, the locals referred to "black fly season".  Being from Connecticut, we have your average pests but I had not heard of these before.  Let me state right here that Black Fly Season signals the start of riding season, in New Hampshire.

From Wikipedia: 
A black fly (sometimes called a buffalo gnat, turkey gnat, or white socks) is any member of the family Simuliidae of the Culicomorpha infraorder. Most black flies gain nourishment by feeding on the blood of mammals, including humans, although the males feed mainly on nectar. They are usually small, black or gray, with short legs, and antennae. They are a common nuisance for humans, and many US states have programs to suppress the black fly population. They spread several diseases, including river blindness in Africa (Simulium damnosum and S. neavei) and the Americas (S. callidum and S. metallicum in Central America, S. ochraceum in Central and South America).

These suckers make an attempt to fly into your eyeballs, nostrils and ears, as well as alighting in your hair, biting and swarming.  Doing a "preflight check" of your bike becomes a cardio exercise if again, you're not "from around heah".

Three of us set out for New London, NH for lunch at Peter Christian's Tavern.  It's on the outskirts of the Lake Sunapee region and has been there since the 1970's.  My wife astride her trusty Honda VT750, Jerry aboard his Ultra and me on Ol' Blue.  We found the back roads to New London largely empty.  Lots of bikes were out but they all seemed to be headed in the opposite direction.  We traveled about 55 miles, or so. 

Our waitress Kate was diminutive in stature but a giant when it came to good service.  The decor was dark and woody and it looks like it's not seen any improvements since it was built.  My wife worked in the area at a summer camp, while in high school and she says it looks virtually the same.

The food was good, the service was fine and after a hot cup of coffee, we opted for the high speed highway route home.  All told, we probably ran about 120 miles or so, a good warm-up ride for the season.

The bugs only last a couple of weeks and then they're gone for another whole year.  Hotter and drier weather on the way and it looks like I can ride to work all week long.

Stay safe this season.  Watch out for the distracted drivers.  Today's was a gal fishing a cigarette out of the pack while moving along at about 45 mph.  I got her attention and made her back off.  Watch out for the idiots.

Another season is officially here.  I'll see you on the street and I'll probably throw you

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Last Manual Transmission Generation and its Impact on Motorcycling

My son has been driving a car for almost 6 years now and never once has he really driven a manual transmission.  I saw the trend coming, years earlier as rental car fleets moved to automatic transmissions in even the lowliest of offerings, in order to be assured that ANY driver could drive one. The joke used to be that, if you wanted to teach someone how to drive a manual, you’d go rent a car rather than have them bash and crash your gearbox.  By the time my son came of driving age, this was no longer an option.  

The plan was to get him to learn to control a car at speed and, once accomplished, to add in the complexity of a clutch pedal and stick shift.  A great plan, but it never panned out. Once my child had his license (or at least was well on his way to having one) his interest in driving my manually operated Subaru sedan was nil.  For the few years, I’d throw it out once in a while. His first two summers back from college; I would offer religiously to teach him the intricacies of rev matching and engine braking.  After a while, the writing was on the wall.

As a kid, I was over the moon at any fast vehicle.  My Dad has a progression of better and faster cars that always keep me wondering when I would get my hands on them.  When I was about 11, my older brother’s buddy took me for my first motorcycle ride.  I was hooked at the sensation of speed, even though we probably never exceeded 40 mph.

Later, as one of the perks of business travel, I made it a personal goal to drive as many different cars as I could.  I was never happy to have to drive the same car twice, with the exception of the Lincoln Town Cars that National Rental Car would let us young adults drive for an extra $1 per day.  Wait? You’re going to let this 24 year-old hoon a Town Car in the middle of a Minnesota winter?  I sure hope that they had good mechanics there at National as we were mighty tough on those “free” vehicles.  Do you remember the scene from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where they pump a Cadillac’s tires up to 70psi and then proceed to drift it all over town?  That was us, pushing those big rear wheel drive cars through, around and over snow drifts. We might have had a little something to drink at dinner first, now that I reflect on it.

What does this have to do with motorcycles you say?  (You did say that, I heard you.)  The generation who can no longer drive a “stick” will find themselves at a serious disadvantage when it comes to motorcycle riding. We’ve already seen more than a few bikes test the waters with automatic transmissions.  As gasoline prices rise (and fall and rise again), we’ll see more people experiment with scooters, which continue to grow in displacement to rival what once was considered a “large” bike.  Manufacturers are adapting their product line-ups to augment and eventually replace manual transmission bikes with automatics and other hybrid vehicles.  And by hybrids, I don’t mean electrics, though developments there continue to advance.  I mean three-wheeled trikes or “ekirt”s, like the Can Am.  If you’re a newbie or just getting on in years and want to continue to ride, why would you want to have to shift your Honda or Harley-Davidson trike?  Speaking of Honda, they continue to surprise and amaze me with the diversity of products that they develop.  

Burgeoning markets will dictate the low-end of the spectrum but developed countries will demand and receive the latest innovations and electronic controls, including the aforementioned electrics, gas/battery hybrids, ABS, ride by wire and automatic transmissions.   Low volume bikes will lose options and may eventually be offered with one choice of transmission, which may be the choice which nets the most profit, an automatic (for the people).

Clutch handles and foot shifters will go the way of kick-starters and a new era will begin.   Sure, there will always be those motivated individuals who will go to the effort to learn to ride a “proper” bike, with all the manual controls but, how long before those bikes (our bikes) are no longer considered the norm?  I think you can expect to see a radical change to our rides and the industry over the next 20 years.  I guess the only positive thing about that is this is about when I’ll be hanging up my leathers.  Hang on to your current inventory.  When the whole world goes mad, in 50 years our bikes will be collector’s items for precisely the simple and manual controls we enjoy.  Might make a nice gift to that grand-kid who (I sure hope not yet) is eventually on the way.

The snow is melting and Valentine’s Day is this week.  Kiss and be kind to your “Old Lady” or “Old Man”, as the case may be.  And get ready to ride again.  I’m shooting out of my driveway at the first sighting of bare asphalt.  I know you’re eager too.  Make sure you do the proper safety checks, especially those tires, as you’ll need all the grip you can get, with the sandy roads here in the Northeast.  And wear the gear.  I don’t care if you go textile or leather but wear a helmet and cover up that ugly old body of yours.  Myself?  I’m thinking of a custom Vanson jacket, with inlaid leather, worthy of being handed down to the next generation.  I sure hope that kid learns to shift soon!

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fighting for my network

Yet another tirade has arrived from the company that makes Joe Rocket motorcycle gear.  Earlier this year, I got a direct message on Twitter saying, in effect, “We appreciate your disclosure (see my profile below) but you have to stop using this Twitter name.” I replied with my own direct message, calling them rude.

Here is what my profile page looks like.  How is it possible that anyone would be confused?

Joe Rocket 
I'm twisted (it's all in the wrist!) I AM NOT affiliated with the company that makes and sells Joe Rocket motorcycle gear. I own a ton of it though.

They don't like the fact that I have been tweeting for the past 4 or 5 years using the name @JoeRocket. I think what really pisses them off is that I have over 7 times the followers and I don't even really try to build my network.  If I had resources and a budget, perhaps some swag to give away or some contests, I think I could do a lot better than 181 followers!

Here are their latest offensive messages, in order:

"@JoeRocket character popped up on my radar yesterday. I am taking steps to have him taken off Twitter. Jumping through their hoops to get this done today."  

Yes, they sent that to ME.  That was late in October and then today I get this:

"Ahhhh now I see. Seeing your Sturgis link it's safe to assume you are the "character" I've been looking for behind @JoeRocket. What possibly (sic) benefit is there to assuming the name of a brand you have no affiliation with whatsoever?"   

Character?  Am I?  Maybe I am a fan, or at least I was.  Now, all that is soured.  I won't ever buy another piece of their gear and am giving thought to selling, discarding or donating anything with their brand name on it.  Sadly, ALL of my and my wife's gear is Joe Rocket brand.  Let's see, it's been three jackets and three pairs of over pants, plus a set of leathers.

I'm sure that their Marketing Director Steve Blakeney is thinking that all my Twitter friends and fans are following me mistakenly, thinking I am them, the company that owns that brand.  I disagree.  I have never pretended to be anything other than just another rider.  A regular guy who gets on his bike as often, and for as far as he can go. Steve, since you're monitoring my blog now, let me ask, do you even ride?

A dozen years ago, I made the mistake of investing a big chunk of money in riding gear, bags, etc. for my first trip to Nova Scotia.  All of it was festooned with the Joe Rocket name.  At the time, I was astride my Kawasaki Ninja and all it took was one look from a Harley rider for me to be christened "Joe Rocket".  Truth be told, it eventually got shortened to Rocket, for the ease of use.  Back in 2007 when Twitter was relatively new, I thought why not?  This is how my friends know me. Soon, I was writing this blog and reaching people everywhere who share a love of the open road with two wheels under them.

When I search Twitter, I see about 25-30 people using some variation of the Joe Rocket name.  Why?  Because we are/were fans.  We like the gear, we strap it on when we go out for a ride or on a tour.  And we advertise that company as we do it.  I have been brand loyal to Joe Rocket since that first set of leathers.  Does Sullivan's, Inc. want to shut down all of those accounts or just mine, so they can use it instead of the more descriptive @JoeRocketGear?  

The real issue here is my Twitter and blog network.  If I cave in and Sullivans, Inc (owners of the Joe Rocket and Power Trip brands) has my account closed, then I lose all of my faithful followers, the people I follow and my online connections.  It was a year ago that I corresponded with Mr. Blakeney TELLING HIM that I was tweeting as @JoeRocket.  I guess he had his head up his ass that day or, didn't bother to read my email or review my offer to assist them grow their social media presence.
At this point, I'm not sure of the resolution.  I won’t give up my contacts so that they can be cadged by the rude Marketing Director who is trying to breathe life into his social media campaign.  I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to either.

Do me a favor, if you agree that I’m being treated unfairly.  Retweet this blog link to your friends and ask them to read this and pass it along as well.  It’s a cautionary tale for any fan of any company or brand.  If you disagree, I welcome your opinion too, and would like to hear what you think is the best way to resolve this.

One last thing…Maybe the folks at Sullivans owe an explanation about the origin of the Joe Rocket name.  I wonder how they came up with that?

Thanks for listening and, as always…

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket