Thursday, December 29, 2011

Jesus I've been lazy!

Yeah, we'll go with that.  I got a few nice compliments recently about this blog.  As I look back on this past year's effort, I see that it's pretty damn thin.  I can partially blame that on work but the rest is on me.  If I want to be known for my creative mind, then I had better show a hint of "brain cleavage" to get your attention now, shouldn't I?

Aside from the drudgery of work, my riding has been limited this past year.  And I have no excuse for it, either. We had a great trip to Island Pond, VT with a day trip into Coaticook, Quebec.  Other than that, there were no other overnight rides and, I think that's the issue.  When all you're doing is buzzing back and forth over local roads you've ridden a million times before, you're not having new adventures and making new memories.  All local and no stays makes Jack a dull boy.

Pirate support vehicle
The Vermont trip had it's moments of mirth and I'll share the highlights.  We camped on Spectacle Pond for 2 nights, with the aforementioned day trip to O'Canada in-between.  What I love a-boot Canada is their attitude towards Americans.  Somebody once described Canada as your cool older cousin who lets you have beer.  The border crossing was friendly, fast and fun.  And no one's hand ever covered their weapon.  We hiked a gorge, found a fromagerie and local bakery and had a great lunch and resultant dinner.  Our lack of french only became an issue at the bakery, where I ate (and summarily purchased) some hot-from-the-oven butter cookies that were meant for another patron.  Oops!  Oh, and the scenery was stunning.

Returning through US Customs was no laughing matter.  We were split up and handled separately, to my wife's chagrin.  When asked for my passport, I approached the customs agent and she retreated.  Confused, I took another step forward and she retreated again, her hand now on her weapon.  What the fuck?  Was I supposed to throw you my passport, douche?  Fine.  I'll wait here while you approach me like a ninja to snatch this from my hand.  Fuck me.  Welcome to the United States of Fear.

Anyway, we had fun and I learned that sharing a room with other people has its disadvantages.  We rented a cabin for the stay, because one female rider not married to me won't tent camp.  So, at modest expense, we rented a 3 bed cinder block bunker in which to crash.  Now, I love this friend dearly but, someone should have made mention of the thrashing about that takes place at night, after a few adult beverages.  In her defense, I suppose that I could have disclosed my snoring, but I didn't...After that first largely sleepless night, all I could do was hug her and tell her how much I liked her.  The other option was anger.  We all laughed it off and decided that we were going to get so drunk that night so as to not have any trouble sleeping.  It worked.

I think the best part of the ride is the "after-party" that happens around the campfire, when you're well-stuffed with dinner, drink and a day full of behind-the-bars memories.  And that seems to be what's been missing most for me.  I need more long, multi-day rides to form the fun memories and experiences.

As a member of the AMA, I get their monthly magazine.  The current issue has a story about the Van Buren sisters who, at a young age and in the year 1916, made a cross-country motorcycle trip.  This is a fantastic story of two young, independent women who refused to believe the they couldn't accomplish their goals, just because of their gender.  Their story is here:  Van Buren Sisters.  I bet they had more than their share of adventure.

Riding cross-country is one of those goals that I want to have under my belt.  Living as I do on the East coast, I am fortunate to have the whole country between me and some family members in California.  A well-timed ride could take me from New Hampshire through Colorado and into the San Francisco area.

Another idea, which seems more easily attainable is to circumnavigate New England by riding the perimeter of all the states.   If done right, it looks to be under 2,000 miles and achievable as a long weekend.  This is not a final route, but it will but give you an idea:

View Larger Map

Another ride would be back to Nova Scotia, riding versus taking the ferry crossing.  I haven't done it before, but I know that it would be all the more gratifying to accomplish the trip this way.

So, all this just to say that, I plan to ride more in the coming year.  I plan to write more too.  Without the two-wheeled adventures, I don't have the fodder for this blog.  Also, I'll try to get back on track with a discussion about Sturgis, gear reviews and other things that I think other riders will find interesting.  I sort of got off track here after a bit.  Keep me honest and keep me focused.  I appreciate the feedback and will try to make this an interesting and informative place for you.

If you want a small treat, click on the headline to find the musical link to the title.

A low, slow wave and a Happy New Year,

Joe Rocket

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two-up, for life!

We did something today that we don't normally do, we took a two-up ride, late in the riding season.  We had some warm weather this week (anything north of 60 degrees in November in New Hampshire, is a good day).  This following a record Halloween storm that dumped about 2 feet of snow on us and triggered a 5+-day power outage across New England.

With winter breathing down our necks, we took a break from raking the endless bounty of oak leaves and pointed just one bike towards the seacoast.  We both ride but since I had already started the process of winterizing the bikes, it seemed superfluous to use both bikes for a short day's ride.  We've ridden two-up  before, for convenience and again, usually for a short hop or, when we're with another couple who only ride that way.  But today, it seemed like a good way to share the experience.

My wife is an accomplished rider who has really come into her own in the last year or two.  Gone are the days of constant supervision from me and the tense moments after my having to remind her to cancel her turn signal or some other newbie mistake.  But, on a day like today, taking the rear seat allowed her to relax and enjoy the view.

All around me, friends are separating and divorcing.  There seems to be a spate of it lately, three announcements alone in the early part of this year.  I don't know what to attribute this to but as a child of divorce, I take my commitment to my marriage seriously.  My wife and I are polar opposites, she's classical and I'm rock 'n' roll.  She shy and introverted while I'm a showboat and will chat up anyone.  We are Yin and Yang.  When she told me that she wanted to go riding with me, I had my reservations about losing my "time off."  Now, years later, I look forward to our time off together.

At some point everyone gives up riding.  I don't have any immediate plans to quit riding any time soon but, I know that at the point that riding is no longer an option, my partner for life will be there, at my side as we motor down the road of life.  In the meantime, I will look forward to her joining me on rides, sharing my experiences, sharing the road and the ride.  I know she prefers to ride her own bike but I'm happy that she is willing to join me every once in a while.

Maybe the secret to a happy marriage is the inclusion of a couple of motorcycles or, at the very least one bike, with the couple riding two-up.  Sharing experiences is what married life is all about.  Now get out there and ride together.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Monday, May 16, 2011

An American Graffiti moment

If you didn't see this classic "coming of age" movie, then you won't understand my reference. 

I'd like to say that I had dinner with an old friend, but she won't allow me to describe her as "old".  Laura and I worked together many years ago, when I was on my way to being old and she was merely a babe.  Yes, a babe then and still a babe today.

Dinner was a result of a cancelled company reunion and a subsequent trip to CT.  Laura's family was kind enough to allow her a night off and we met at a new restaurant in Danbury called Max 40's.  We spent hours hours catching up, drinking wine and eating calamari and pizza.  When the night came to an end, Laura muttered something about how hard it was to drive her car home after a few drinks.  She seemed fine and so I inquired.  She said, "Oh, I have this race car outside.  My husband races."  Huh? Wha?  How come we didn't get to that in our catch-up conversation???

So, we exited the restaurant and there was this spotless, late-model Porsche 911 C4S.  White, with a full roll-cage, a slow, loping race idle and a heavy clutch that makes it so difficult for a young woman in heels to drive.  Being a car nut, Porsche fan and wanting to capture the moment, I had to have a photo.  Laura was happy to play along, standing near the car but, she was more interested in my getting a good photo of the car, than of her.  So typical.  As a mom of two, she stood by the car, rather than posing.  After several attempts, I got a halfway decent shot that (yes, Laura) shows that the car is a Porsche and of my friend.

It was only on reflection of our fun dinner that I realized that, to some, she is the mystery blond in the hot car.  What do guys think after she pulls away from them, engine "blat-blat-blatting"?   I can only surmise that she is the stuff of dreams now, this quaint little Connecticut housewife.  Little does she know that, when she hops into this car to run her errands, she's turning heads, causing consternation amongst young males and causing more questions than can be answered in one long night.  In this case, life imitates art.

I wonder if she's ever seen American Graffiti?

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

And so it goes...

Another riding season is underway.  And so it goes.  We had our first group ride of the season about a week ago and it was a complete disaster.  Fourteen of us, astride thirteen bikes, set off for points west, with the goal of getting a belly full of Hungarian Mushroom soup.  The lead bike planned and took a most circuitous route, losing half of the group along the way.  One would think it's easy to tell the difference between 13 bikes and 7 bikes but, there we were, caught at a light and doing the right thing for the folks BEHIND us, while the rest of the group roared off, clueless.

The first rule of Fight Club is we don't talk about Fight Club.  The first rule of group riding is to keep an eye on the rider behind you.  If he or she ain't there, pull the fuck over.  If everyone understood that then even the leader would eventually get a clue.  And this is why I eschew (Bless you!) group riding.

The best group size is small, no more than five bikes (an even BETTER number is 2-3 bikes).  A bigger group gets spread out over too large an area and can't keep all the riders in sight, or as a cohesive unit.  Big groups make bad decisions, at lights, changing lanes, etc.  Small groups are tight and tidy.  I like it tight.  Much mo' bettah.

Big groups overwhelm gas stations, parking lots, restaurants or almost anywhere you go.  Arrive in a small group and you'll have less stress everywhere you go.  One car-sized parking spot is a good place to park three bikes.  When fifteen bikes arrive almost anywhere together, chaos ensues.  People make poor choices and you end up irritating motorists as you leave bikes hanging out in the road, awaiting their turn to pull in or find a spot.  It's the same thing at a busy gas station.  People panic and jockey for an open pump and that's when we run into a risk of a collision or an "Artie Johnson" (slow speed dismount).

I have a couple of friends that I can rely on and, are my first choice to call when I want to ride.  Failing that, the missus has her own scooter and, when I can pry her from her other activities and interests, is always willing to join me.  I fall back on group rides more as a way to connect with the people I haven't seen in a while or when I just don't want to make the effort to plan a ride.  It's easy to just get carried along, letting others make the decisions.

Click on the title link above if you want to get some tips about group riding.  At little preparation will go a long way to making sure that EVERYONE has a safe and enjoyable ride.  Ride safe, check your bike before you go past Turn One (the end of your driveway) and keep your eye open for the cell phone idiots in cars. 

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let me go swiftly

The concept of death has weighed heavily on me for the past month.  A close friend (Mark) was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September and, after one surgery, the prognosis quickly became that he was terminal. Initially, there was hope that the surgery was a success and that he had 5-10 years before this insidious cancer would claim him.  Within weeks, he was back in the hospital, where they found that the cancer had spread quickly to other parts of his chest cavity and organs.  He is now days away from death and it saddens us terribly.

I have long thought that the chances I took would eventually be the cause of my demise.  At a younger age, I drove recklessly at very high speeds.  I drag raced when I could, taunted bullies by egging their cars and had numerous car chases that could have ended in beatings.  When I took a wife, I felt that I owed her an explanation in the event of a car crash.  I told her that if it looked like I was speeding, I probably was and enjoyed every last minute.  A somewhat morbid thing to mention to your new, blushing bride, but I did it anyway.

Cars gave way to fast motorcycles and soon I had a whole new addiction to danger.  Yes, there were foolish stunts and the occasional bad judgement, but I survived it all.  The thought of crashing almost never enters my head when I ride although I do take extra precautions when the conditions are poor.  The thought of a high-speed crash resulting in an almost instantaneous death is nothing to fear.  Rather, I fear a slow, wasting death or a waste of my life.

Mark is a good man, an honest man, a doctor.  He, by his own admission, has lived an unremarkable life.  His greatest regret these past months is that he "didn't do anything wrong".  From that, I assume it to mean he didn't drink, smoke, speed or otherwise live an interesting life.  He stayed inside the lines.  He is a good father and husband and I know how proud his family is of him and his accomplishments.  Still, at a too-young age, his time is almost over and he's too late realized that he hasn't really lived.

Most of us have obligations to work or family that necessiate a lifestyle that is less than "cinematic".  That is, we have to pay our mortgages, rent, tuition and car payments and most of us don't get to earn our living in an exciting way.  We drive trucks or we work in an office or we work in some other fashion.  These mundane choices don't have to be the wholeness of our existence.  Rather, we can life life to it's fullest almost every day.

Those of us who ride understand that it's not the fear of crashing that makes us safe riders.  It's the fear that we might otherwise live sedentary lives, sitting safely on our sofas.  Perhaps my biggest fear of all is that no one would remember me.  So, I'm prone to outrageous behavior, actions and words.  If people don't like me, fuck them.  Stop following me on Facebook, then!

I will live, slightly larger than life.  I am the shadow I cast, from a light source six feet behind me.  I am no rock star, throw no tantrums and don't bust up hotels rooms but, I will be true to myself and in who I believe myself to be. We are, after all, our own creations.  I am a chameleon, adapting to each situation presented. I am a businessman in a suit, I am a biker in leather.  I am a racer, a lover and a fighter.  I fit my personality and persona to the need.  While I can't necessarily afford all of the toys and joys that money can buy, I can still have all of those experiences by not sitting on the sidelines of life.

Life is too short.  We ought to get a practice lifetime to make our mistakes and to learn and then the "real" one, in which we learn to enjoy ourselves.  But, perhaps some of you are way ahead of me in the realization of self.  All our clocks run down at some point, we just never know when.

Quoting anything from Mel Gibson's lips is corny but “Every man dies - Not every man really lives.” rings true.  At the end of your journey, what will you remember of the trip?  That you never took a risk, never flirted with danger, never felt your balls up in your stomach over what you just survived?

Last night, we dared each other to skydive this year and said we'd do it.  The funny thing is that, the gal I married is a bit of a risk-taker and for years I've looked at that photo of her jumping out of a plane as a bit crazy.  Well, bring on the crazy.  We have lots of living left to do.

Winter's almost over.  Mark will never see another Spring.  His family will find a way to carry on without his dark sense of humor.  I will lose a friend who made all of the mundane shit we had to do together all the more enjoyable.  Mark is a funny guy in a bad situation.  He'll succumb in just a couple of days.  I'd like to think that he will die with a wry smile on his face and a dirty thought.  Maybe he did live a little, even if only in his mind.

Godspeed Mark, and to all of us.  I hope to be out riding soon, pushing my comfort levels and the boundaries of good taste and judgement.  If I piss you off somehow well, remember that.

A low slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Fall and Decline of Motorcycling

Do you ever get a whiff of a strange smell, the one that smells like something electrical is burning it's wires?  It's almost an instinctive reaction for those of us of a certain age.  It's a "fight or flight" gut reaction that sets your "Spider Sense" tingling.  It's also a smell that's easy to miss, if you're not paying attention.  It's the smell of change and it's happening slowly.  If you are attuned to it, perhaps you've also noticed the signs.

The motorcycle market is poised for change and the impetus of this change is the state of the economy and new applied technologies.  This is an exciting time to be working for a motorcycle manufacturer or a terrifying time, depending on your perspective.  Thanks a very weak American economy, few can afford to buy or own an expensive "non-essential" form or transportation.  The used bike market is flooded with many low-mileage bikes, the owners dumping due to financial limitations.  The high-end custom cruiser market is taking a hit too, now that $30-50,000 custom bikes are out of the reach of most owners.

At the same time, the burgeoning market for electrics is taking off at a record speed.  New investment and developments in battery technology have put these bikes into the performance range of gasoline-powered bikes.  Brands like Brammo, Mission and Zero Motorcycles are attracting investors and the interest of the motorcycle press.  And MotoCzysz has abandoned development of a gas bike due to the opportunities to create a lighter and better balanced bike.

    The 2010 MotoCzysz E1pc  (Amadeus Photography)
What manufacturers have failed to do, is to promote motorcycling to the non-riding public as an alternative form of transportation.  With three-wheelers (like the Can Am), trikes, small dual-purpose bikes, there are tons of available models for newbies.  It doesn't have to be black leather and do-rags, it could be a young adult riding a small electric bike (or scooter) to work.  Gas prices have already broached the $3/gal. mark here on the East coast and I suspect that they will continue to rise over the next two years, before miraculously dropping just prior to the Presidential election.  It's funny how that works, isn't it?

In order to convince these future customers to take up riding, I think an appeal to the economics has to happen.  Let's compare the price of having multiple cars versus having one car and one bike.  Let's do the math on the cost of ownership, payments, maintenance, taxes, insurance and let's do the same for the household which uses a bike as a secondary form of transportation.  Add in the fun factor and I think a lot of people will shed their old beaters in favor of a whisper quiet, clean electric motorcycle.

Form factor will come into play too, as people's need for a vehicle that carries more than your standard bike.   Honda's N700V is interesting but I like what I see in a Can Am, with saddlebags and a tour pack.  Built in storage is the answer.  Yesterday, at the bike show in Boston, I spotted trikes with trunks. 

As more companies come to market, with new technologies and new ideas, I hope they won't just try to reinvent the wheel.  I look forward to the creative new designs and mobility devices that are in our future, just a few short years away.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket