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