Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cycle Guide (1967-1987): The Best Damn Job I Ever Had

Thirty years ago I lost the best job I ever had, before or since. On June 12, 1987, Cycle Guide magazine closed its doors for good. That morning I rode to the seedy industrial park on Higgins Court in Torrance, parked my last-ever test bike in the garage, and took one last lap of the office. I paused at my cubicle, now empty of the helmets, jackets, press kits, and assorted debris that had washed up there in the last two-and-a-half years, and sat one last time in the chair in which I had often stared a hole in the wall willing an idea to come to me.

The guys who worked on the bicycle magazine in the other half of the building were as quiet as mourners at a funeral, knowing they’d still have jobs tomorrow while those of us on the motorcycle side wouldn’t. Later that day the Cycle Guide staff gathered at a restaurant in Long Beach where stories were told, grievances aired, future plans laid out, and an immoderate amount of alcohol was consumed for that early in the afternoon.

I got my first full-time professional writing gig in 1984, with Rider. I managed to get fired from that job seven months later (on my birthday, too) and landed shortly thereafter at Cycle Guide, where I worked under people with degrees in journalism and English. They told me on my first day that if I worked my ass off and mastered what they taught me, when I left CG I’d take with me the necessary skills to make a living writing for anybody about anything. They were right, too.

I could use up half of the available space on the internet telling stories about how great it was to work at CG during the heyday of the print era––the new bikes I got paid to ride, my trip to France to try out the new Yamahas on Circuit Paul Ricard, interviewing Kenny Roberts on the dusty floor of the timing tower at Willow Springs and later that day riding a TZ750 around the track, and just generally––in the words of the late Charlie Everitt, who hired me for the job–– “being treated as if I were a better person than I actually am.”

All of that was great, but if I live to be a hundred I’ll never forget the high of working with a staff of dedicated, quirky, funny, and freakishly talented enthusiasts to put out the best magazine we knew how. I’ve never had a job before or since where I worked as hard or laughed as much. Every month, when the new issue hit the stands, I felt like the proud parent of a precocious baby.

I was on vacation––in Oregon, where I eventually moved––when I got word CG was closing down. I rushed back to the office in SoCal and faced the depressing task of putting out what we all knew was our last issue. We knew it, but for some reason we weren’t allowed to say it in the magazine. Which really sucked, given what we’d all put into the title––I almost died for it, for fuck’s sake, on one extremely bad afternoon in 1986 at Willow Springs Raceway. So we buried clues of our demise all through the issue because who cared if we got caught? What were they gonna do, fire us?

OK, Grandpa, we get it, you miss writing stories on a manual typewriter and mailing the magazine to readers via Pony Express. Everything was wonderful and magic in the past, and the present sucks. But it’s actually better now, or haven’t you heard of this new-fangled thing called the internet? Instead of four or five monthly magazines there are dozens of websites spewing out hundreds of stories a day. We get race results from the other side of the world before the checkered flag stops waving, and riding impressions of new models written and submitted so quickly that the bikes are still ticking as they cool down while we’re reading about them.

What exactly was so great about dead-tree motojournalism––with content already three months out of date as soon as it arrived in the mailbox––that we should be sorry if it dies out?

Well, gather ‘round, young ‘uns, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time when motojournos actually had time to think about what they were writing, to put it in some kind of big-picture context, fact check it, run it by the other staffers who’d point out errors, typos, and help polish a piece until it shined like the chrome on a new Harley, a process we called gang editing. A monthly magazine might not have flooded your brain with so much news your head swelled up like a balloon, but––with CG at least––what you got in return for less copy was better copy.

That’s not always possible on the interwebs, where if your story pops up 10 minutes later than some other site’s, you lose. It began with cable TV’s 24-hour news cycle, where breathless, content-free BREAKING NEWS updates kept your eyeballs glued to the screen despite nothing newsworthy happening, which didn’t matter as long as you hung in there for the commercials.

The internet is the small-screen version of that, and its insatiable appetite for content––any content, no matter how well-written or relevant––increasingly sacrifices quality for quantity. When you’re really hungry, you don’t care too much how good the food is as long as it’s filling. Chicken nuggets will do just as well as chicken cordon bleu.

Most of the motorcycle magazines that survive today are barely hanging on as readers––and more important, advertising dollars––migrate in droves to the web. Some have scaled back their page count, or their frequency, or changed up the content mix in an attempt to attract a new audience. I’ve worked for three titles that tried one or more of those things, and every one of them disappeared after a year or so.

All motorcycle magazines have websites that consume big chunks of staff time that would otherwise go into the print side, to the detriment of both. The two days you spend shooting a 10-minute video for the website are two days you can’t spend polishing the magazine’s feature road test, or editing a touring story, or riding a new bike. The internet is the biggest, loudest, most insistent chick in the nest, working its parents to death fetching it more and more worms.

A former motojournalist who knows the downside of the digital revolution all too well told me that it’s not just the website, but the entire digital footprint––web, social media, video––that makes it harder to put out a quality print product. Time spent on these projects forced him to “pre-write” some articles based on what was known prior to the event from marketing info or technical material, and then modify the article on the fly to suit what he learned later.

The need to make the print and online versions of the same story different meant twice as much work, he said, a situation made even worse by pressure to produce more and more click-baity content for the website without regard to its quality. The magazine underwent staff cuts and other money-saving measures (“Copyeditors? Proofreaders? Too expensive, cut ‘em loose. Fact checkers? Ha!”) while more and more energy was funneled to the website––which didn’t, and probably still doesn’t, turn a profit.

If you’ve ever bitched about motorcycle road tests reading like manufacturers’ brochures, or all the magazines running essentially the same stories at the same time, with hardly any difference between the print and online versions, this is why. It’s also why I’m still rambling on about the CG days 30 years later: I went freelance in 1988, when the World Wide Web was still just a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, and never had to deal with this bullshit. And for that I’ll always be grateful.

RIP Cycle Guide, 1967-1987. Here’s looking at you, you magnificent paper-and-ink bastard. We’ll always have Torrance.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

As Time Goes By

This blog dropped off my radar for a number of years. Writing jobs, side gigs, and personal stuff all conspired to relegate blogging to the list of activities there was no time, or enthusiasm, for. The other day, though, I happened to glance at it and realized it's been so long since my last post that the Bonneville in the photo was long gone. The 2000 VFR800 pictured above is my new ride, and it came to me by means and for reasons that might bear explaining, especially if you're an older motorcyclist.

I injured my back (among other things) in a track crash while testing bikes for Cycle Guide in 1986. It's given me trouble ever since, and more than a year ago it got so bad whenever I rode––a searing pain between my shoulder blades, usually starting just 10 minutes into the ride––I decided to get out of motorcycling altogether. I sold the Bonnie to a friend and left bikes behind––or so I thought. While I wasn't "officially" riding, I still borrowed a bike for the occasional blast on backroads followed by a fistful of Tylenol and a hot shower. Oddly, the bikes that hurt me the least had lean-forward, sportbike-normal seating positions.

Then I heard from a friend who had a very nice VFR800. I'd told him years ago, in an offhand way, that if he ever wanted to sell it he should call me first. Well, he did, and he did. Not long after that it was in my garage. It's not entirely my kind of motorcycle––I can't do justice to any aspect of its performance––but it's well-suited to the kind of riding I do now, which consists mainly of short rides punctuated by long intervals at various coffee shops. The surprise is how comfortable it is. I never would have imagined I could like a sportbike, but I like this one.

If there's anything useful to learn from this it's that if you love riding motorcycles don't let anything stop you. Keep trying––different bikes, riding positions, seats, bar height and setback––until you find what works for you. Even if it's not the kind of bike you think you should have. Even if you feel a little foolish riding it. Because riding is better than not riding.

Friday, October 31, 2014

"It's Aliiiiive!!"

Appropriate to Halloween, which today is, I've resurrected Tread Life briefly for an update.

Since I last posted a lot has happened. My back got worse, and I almost stopped riding altogether after buying a Miata. (Heresy alert: the Miata is as much fun as a motorcycle.) While the Bonneville wasn't getting much play I messed around with raising the stock handlebar, with little effect on my back. I got an extended cable kit from the UK and a different bar from an internet supplier, but the bar was just wider, not any higher. That's the peril of shopping for a three-dimensional part via a two-dimensional medium. What I needed was a selection of bars I could hold up to the bike.

I found that in a local Yamaha dealer, where a dozen or so were hanging on the wall. I picked out a likely one, walked out the the parking lot, and laid it over the stock bar. Hmm. No real way to tell without taking it home, so I bought it.

The resulting improvement was substantial. The bar--OE on a Yamaha Grizzly quad--sat me almost upright, reminding me of the riding position motorcycles had back when I started riding. It's been several weeks since the changeover and I'm riding more every week.

I've swapped out the Happy Trail panniers I've had on the bike for months for the grubby, beat-up, no-name aluminum ones I had on my V-Strom a long time ago. The HT panniers are beautiful and extremely well made but they're black, and in winter weather the unfinished cans make the otherwise totally black bike stand out better in traffic.

After flirting with a Corbin seat I went back to the Bill Mayer custom saddle, then I added a National Cycle windscreen. I'm really happy with how it all turned out. Of course, now that I want to take it on a long ride the weather is ruling that out. But summer's coming again...someday. And when it does, I'll be ready.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Bonnie Lass

If you were around when Britbikes made up a big part of the American motorcycling landscape, you probably remember they weren't without their faults. They shook, they leaked, they stopped dead in their tracks for no reason. But the Brits got a few things right. Those leaky, glitchy twins handled well, they had good power, and they were light and simple to work on (good thing considering how often you had to). Those virtues were handed down to the Triumph Bonneville I bought at the beginning of the year, on which I now have more than 4000 miles.

The Bonnie has outlasted a GL1800, which I sold not long after the Triumph took up residence in the garage, and it'll soon see off a Silver Wing scooter I took as partial payment for the Wing. I just can't get excited about riding anything except the Bonneville. I've made it even more enticing by outfitting it with a few accessories that make it a practical weekender--all I need now is a free weekend.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I Am Triumphant At Last

I've had a simmering lust for a Triumph Bonneville since 2005, when Rider sent me a T100 to road test. Last Friday I finally bought one. I have only a few hundred miles on it, but it's already true love. It reminds me of all the good characteristics of the motorcycles I grew up with––it's light, and narrow, and about as complicated as a ball-peen hammer––as well as the not-so-good, like the lack of wind protection, the thin seat, and appalling fuel mileage. But what really counts is every time I look at it I smile.

When I brought it home and parked it next to my GL1800, it looked like a scale model of a British bike next to a museum exhibit of a blue whale. It didn't take long before the Bonnie looked right and the Wing started to look huge and bloated. I'm at a very fortunate place in my life where I could, if I chose, keep both. Whether I will is unclear right now. But last night I took the GPS off the Wing and put it on the Triumph, along with a tank bag wired for 12-volt power. Tonight I tried combinations of soft luggage to find a good touring set-up. By the time I was through the Gold Wing seat was piled high with tank bags, tools, and wires––an 1800cc work bench. So I might have answered my own question without realizing it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion

Starting with the February 2013 issue of Motorcyclist magazine, and every month thereafter, you'll see my byline on several pages of the MC Garage section. When I first heard that my former Cycle Guide co-worker Marc Cook had been named editor of MC, I contacted him and joked that, despite his ascension to such lofty heights, he shouldn't forget his old friends, some of whom were still down in the trenches freelancing. I'm incredibly fortunate that he didn't, because not long after he offered me a monthly gig.

In that post about Cook's hiring as editor, I predicted his version of Motorcyclist would be a very good read. Since joining the team I've been given an advance look at some of those changes, as well as a chance to weigh in on some of them, not that Cook needs my input all that much. While I can't divulge any specific details, I can say that I was right about the new Motorcyclist. If you haven't read it in a while, give it another try. I think you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"So, how was your weekend, Jerry?"

Well, it's a little hard to explain...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Weight? Weight? Don't Tell Me

It's been 11 months since I bought a used GL1800. Since then I've put more than 12,000 miles on it, so I must like it. Right? Well, mostly yes.

The sequence of events that brought the Wing and me together began many years ago when I overcooked a corner on a racetrack and broke a lot of bones. They took a long time to heal, and some of them didn't heal too well. I'm reminded of it most mornings when I get up. Twenty years later some of the same bones were broken again in a head-on car crash, along with my left wrist. It's been an interesting couple of decades.

The motorcycles I've owned since the racetrack crash have varied, from streetbikes to dual-sports to adventure tourers, but they all had one thing in common––an upright seating position, or as upright as was practical in each case by modifying the handlebar, the seat, the footpegs, whatever it took.

My previous bike, a 650 V-Strom, was the beneficiary of every trick in the aftermarket's book, and still I found myself squirming to find a comfortable position in the saddle, and ending each ride with a handful of ibuprofen and an icepack. It took me some time to admit it had to go if I was to keep riding. I had ridden a few GL1800s in the past, and always found them comfortable, so when a deal on one came along I snapped it up.

Here's the thing, though. Along with the best seating position I've found to date, and the stereo and cruise control I've grown to love, came a couple of features I could do without, namely weight and size. No bike I've ever ridden carries its bulk as effortlessly as the Wing, but it's still there. I notice it in parking lots, and on sloped ground, and when I hoist the bike onto the centerstand to check the tire pressure.

But I can't complain that much. I shopped for the ideal seating position, and this is the motorcycle that came with it. Anyway, after nearly a year I'm almost to the point where I can forget how big it is for long stretches at a time, stretches I might not otherwise be spending on a motorcycle of any weight or size.

Employee Of The Decade (Plus Two)

Daisy, Tread Life's editorial assistant and morale officer. Today marks her 12th year on the job. Good work, Small Dog.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dear Pacific Northwest...

It's July 1. In most parts of the country they call this summer. Here, however, not so much. I mean this is nice, all green and cool and stuff, but dammit, how about some sunshine once in a while? Because any minute now it's going to be winter again, with the rain and damp and week-long storms, and if by the time that comes around again I haven't had to open my jacket's vents even once, I won't be responsible for my actions.



Marc Cook Named Editor of Motorcyclist

I learned the other day that Brian Catterson is stepping down from the editorship of Motorcyclist and giving the big desk to Marc Cook. Cook and I worked together at Cycle Guide from July of 1985, when I started there, until the day in 1987 when the owner shut the place down and locked the doors.

He might not appreciate me revealing his nickname during those years––Elroy, after the youngest Jetson child––so I won't. On weekends he worked as a doorman at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach (“It was Hismosa before the divorce…”) where comics like Jay Leno were regulars. Every Monday morning after his doorman gig Cook was a walking highlight reel of all the best bits from the weekend shows.

Many of the moments at CG that I remember best co-starred Cook. For one story the magazine borrowed a Yoshimura Suzuki Superbike from Craig Vetter’s collection. It was a battle-scarred warhorse, ridden by Wes Cooley in AMA races. The evening before we were supposed to take it and an ex-Kenny Roberts TZ750 to Willow Springs for testing and photography, Cook and I rolled it out of the garage into the alley behind the offices to start it up and check for leaks or misfires.

It was strictly a bump-and-run bike, free of starters of either the electric or kick variety, so we flipped the handlebar-mounted toggle switch to “on” and started pushing. When we dropped the clutch the bike stopped as if it had hit a brick wall. We did this for about an hour, trading places every few attempts, and finally gave up. Only then, with the sun going down and the sweat pouring off of us, did it occur to one of us to check the kill switch. What we found was the switch had been wired backwards, with the little metal tab with “on” and “off” written on it reversed. We turned the switch off, gave it one last bump, and it lit up with an ear-busting roar, nearly dragging us halfway down the alley.

Writing a monthly magazine involves more than just big stories. Every word on every page has to come from somewhere. On the Cycle Guide table of contents page, under the title of each story, was a subhead (subtitle), which by tradition had to be different from the subhead that appeared under the title on the first page of the article itself. That always struck me as a lot of extra work for something I was convinced nobody but us would ever notice, and it was. The task of writing the subheads often fell to Cook and me, often late at night a few days before the magazine shipped, and we kept it interesting by wracking our caffeine-soaked brains for pun-based subheads so esoteric they should have come with footnotes. We played off each other’s ideas, riffing like jazz musicians except without music, just words. Today, whenever I try to explain to someone how exhilarating that was, all I get is blank stares.

Cook and I went road-testing together now and then in the canyons near Malibu. We were pretty evenly matched, with me usually outbraking him going into corners, and him showing me his taillight on the way out. On one such ride, with Cook on a Suzuki GSX-R750 and me on a Yamaha FZ700, we rode Sand Canyon Road for miles, ignoring the double-yellow and the blind corners, passing and re-passing, slamming the door and busting it wide open, with a sheer drop on one side of the canyon so deep that if we had gone over the guard rail we’d have starved to death before we hit the bottom.

We finally came to a wide spot in the road and pulled over. Cook took his helmet off, I took mine off, and before either of us said a word we started laughing at the lunacy of what we’d been doing, and our sheer dumb luck at not having been killed.

I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that Cycle Guide was where I learned my craft. Just as some hospitals are teaching hospitals, CG was a teaching magazine. In addition to getting the magazine out on time each month, the two editors I worked under there had another goal––to make sure everyone who worked there learned enough about good writing so they’d be able to make a living at it after they left. It worked in my case, and in Cook’s, too.

Prediction is never without risk, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Motorcyclist with Cook at the helm is going to be a very good read. In the CG days Cook had a subversive sense of humor, the kind that sneaks up on you and picks your pocket so deftly you don’t realize it until later when look for your wallet and can’t find it. I hope the corporate culture doesn’t beat that out of him. I haven’t spoken to him in many years, but I’ve read his work whenever I came across it, and he hasn’t lost the knack of clear, lucid writing that was drilled into him at CG.

One final thing. I’m not sure what pressures will be brought to bear on the new occupant of Motorcyclist’s wheelhouse. I’m more certain that everyone will want something from the new guy before he figures out who’s worth listening to and who’s blowing smoke. Before all the requests start, I’d like to ask one thing for me, just one small thing.

Stop using all those goddam exclamation points.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Road Trip!

Same place, different animals.

The restaurant pictured above probably doesn't ring a bell unless you're a fan of the movie Animal House, in which case you'll recognize it as the roadhouse where several hapless Deltas took their dates to see Otis Day and the Knights play, and...well, if you don't know, see the movie. It's worth it. Anyway, yesterday the Dexter Lake Club was the scene of another type of road trip, called an RTE, undertaken by hungry long-distance riders, many of which were entered in the Big Money Rally.

The RTE, or ride to eat, is an LD tradition. It's pretty much meeting some riding buddies for lunch, except some of them come from several states away, gobble down a cheeseburger, and saddle up again before their hot engines stop ticking. (I know, but it's fun to us.) I met up with my good friend Paul Peloquin there, and over lunch the subject of preparedness came up. Oregon no less than California is earthquake country, except unlike California, which has a measurable quake about every half-hour, in Oregon we're saving them all up for one huge tsumani-generating, coast-flattening, live-action disaster movie that will move the Pacific coastline just a few feet west of the southbound lanes of Interstate 5.

There's a place in Eugene called The Epicenter where for years I have bought MREs to get me through the winter power outages common here in the sticks. MRE stands for "meal, ready to eat," which I once heard a military veteran call "three lies in one." The ones I buy aren't army field rations. They're more for keeping on hand in case the electricity goes out, or Hawaii sinks beneath the waves and sends a 300-foot-tall wave crashing through downtown Boise.

Paul was intrigued by the sort of gadgets I'd seen on The Epicenter's website, and suggested we visit the store after lunch. As it turned out there was no retail store, just a warehouse out of which the company ships products ordered on its website. But Paul knocked on the door anyway, and to our surprise Brian, the owner, was inside, and invited us in for a tour.

You don't have to be a tinfoil-hat-wearing, tanks-rolling-down-Main-Street survivalist to appreciate the clever stuff we saw, including a stove the folds flat and burns anything, and a pot you can use to heat water and charge USB devices. Mark that well––you put water in the pot, put it on the stove (called a FireBox), light a fire, and the heat turns into electricity. You can literally charge your cell phone with fire. How cool is that? (Go here to see the products in more detail and watch some videos.)

I asked Brian if he'd ever thought about marketing the FireBox to motorcycle campers. He hadn't, so he gave me one to try out. I'm not really a camper, but I know how to make fire, having lived for 17 years in a house heated by an enormous and leaky wood-burning stove that took up half the basement. I'll try out the FireBox soon and let you know how it works. Meanwhile, if you watch the video and just have to have a Firebox of your own, I'm sure Brian would appreciate the business. His leisure hours are spent fettling a brace of old British sports cars, and those babies can suck a bank account dry faster than Bluto Blutarsky can chug a case of beer.

"Otis! My man!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rockin' and Rollin'

And I thought it was cool having a radio on my Gold Wing. This guy has live music.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back In The Saddle

Crater Lake National Park
I took my first long ride on the new Gold Wing this past weekend, a quick run down to the little town of Gerlach, Nevada, for an annual gathering of long-distance riders. It was a shakedown run for the both the bike and me. I haven't ridden much more than 75 miles in a day for the past few years because of problems from old injuries. But events conspired to bring me together with Jumbo the Gold Wing a while back, and more sobering events prompted me to make the trip to Gerlach.

Ascot Racer

Motorcycle riding is a dangerous activity, no matter how we try to pretty it up. Life itself is no walk in the park, either. This year saw the passing of four members of the long-distance community, two from accidents while riding and two others from illness. Like the members of any tight-knit group of like-minded enthusiasts, LD riders squabble and disagree, often about astonishingly trivial matters, but in my life I've come across no more generous and giving a bunch of people. Despite only passing acquaintances with them, I felt the loss of these men as if we'd been the best of friends.

Because I've been more or less on the shelf for a while, I split the trip to Gerlach into two easy days. The weather report called for temps in the high 80s, and since I'm no fan of heat I planned to get up at the crack of dawn and ride to Klamath Falls the first day, grab a room at the peak of the afternoon swelter, and continue on to Gerlach the next morning.

At a gas stop in Alturas, California, I saw a group of antique cars heading for an event called Street Vibrations in Reno. The driver of the car in the photo above had a small brass cup of grease in his hand and was lubricating various old-timey gizmos under the hood with a glob on the end of his finger. The car had "Ascot Racer" painted on the side, and the driver said the car was indeed an old dirt-track racer. When he was done he heaved the engine to life with the crank while his wife fiddled with the controls in the cockpit, and they chugged away.

In case you're hosting a picnic for 40 of your friends.

Bruno's Country Club in Gerlach really needs quotes around Country Club. It's a bar and a restaurant with a banquet room in the back, all on the one main street in town. Down the street are two blocks of motel rooms operated by Bruno's. Both blocks were full of LD riders for the weekend.

For some reason I was given an apartment--sorry, "apartment"--with some odd amenities. In the freezer was an ice pack with nothing but Japanese writing on it, along with a box of cling wrap, also in Japanese. There was a John Wayne painting on one wall of the living room, and a John Wayne clock on the opposite wall. One of the kitchen drawers was full of plastic utensils; the one below it was filled to overflowing with used plastic grocery bags. There were no screens on any of the windows, at least not the windows that opened, and a tiny air conditioner struggled gamely to mitigate the stifling heat in the airless room.

Rally ho!

On Saturday morning a select group of masochists lined up to participate in an eight-hour mini-rally. Watching them leave constituted the only town-based entertainment open to non-gambling non-drinkers for the rest of the day, so later a few of us went out to the Black Rock Desert to visit the Iron Butt Association's Circle of Honor.

The Circle of Honor

The Circle is where LD riders remember those who have, as they say, ridden on ahead. Each stone has a name inscribed on it to mark the passing of a comrade and friend. It's situated on a hillside overlooking the playa, the vast, flat expanse of the Black Rock. It's a somber place, capable of tempering the usual high spirits that prevail during the Gerlach weekend and turning the mind to thoughts of lost friends, and past rides, and how damned temporary everything is that we like to think of as permanent and unchanging.

Later that night we sat down to a banquet prepared by Bruno and his staff. The food in the restaurant out front is food. The food served at the banquet is the food of the gods. Guys who've never missed a meal in their lives starve themselves the entire day in anticipation of the wonders that come forth from the kitchen.

After the banquet the results of the mini-rally were announced. Two riders tied for first place, and the winner was determined by a game of rock-paper-scissors. After that everyone headed out to the playa in the pitch darkness, where a tiny light shone in the distance.

The bonfire on the playa is the heart of the weekend. Out there under a black canopy of a zillion stars you feel justifiably small. As the bonfire dies down, so do the voices, and eventually it's time to remember the riders who aren't there, and why. One by one people step into the firelight and tell stories about them, their generosity, their spirit, their competitiveness, the joy they got from life, the hole their passing leaves in the lives of the rest of us. Bottles are passed around, cigars are lit, and the bonfire burns to embers, through which by tradition all first-time Gerlach attendees must walk.

Sunday morning at 7:40 I left Gerlach with my friend Paul Peloquin (the loser of the previous night's rock-paper-scissors smackdown) giving myself permission to stop for the day if conditions, either meteorological or physical, worsened. But the weather was cool, the roads were deserted, and we made great time to Klamath Falls, where it was pouring rain. We parked in the shelter of a car wash bay while Paul had a coffee and I ate a muffin. Then we shook hands and took different routes to our homes.

By then I was thinking it was entirely possible that I could make it all the way home that day. The Wing is the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden, and the aches and pains that had deviled me for years were so diminished as to be inconsequential. I stopped several times for breaks and snacks, and rolled into my driveway at 4:45 p.m., sore but exhilarated. I'd ridden 440 miles in one day, a trifling distance by LD rider standards but a huge accomplishment for me.

Every time I get ready to go to Gerlach I remind myself there's really nothing to do there, and it's always hot, or dusty, or cold, or all three at once, and I wonder if I really want to go. Every time I get home from Gerlach I remember the feeling of standing on the playa at night, under the roof of infinity, in the company of the oddest, orneriest, most open-hearted and accepting community of people I've ever been proud to be a part of, and there's no question about it. I'm going back next year.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Really Big Addition To The Garage

Lead Wing. Hondaminium. Hondapotamus. Go ahead, laugh. I've heard 'em all. I don't care. I love this thing. I've put just two tanks of gas through it and I'm already addicted to the stereo and the cruise control.

Contrary to my long-standing custom of not naming motorcycles, I've begun to refer to this one as Jumbo. I once rode a real, live elephant. This is sort of like that, except it's faster, and smells better, and has more trunk space.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Project Gift Horse: Whoa, Nelly

I got a phone message this afternoon from––let's call him Bob––my guy at the Oregon state DMV office in Salem. It ain't looking good for Project Gift Horse.

I had contacted Bob several weeks ago about the local DMV office's refusal to inspect the VIN on Project Gift Horse unless the bike was "substantially complete." No amount of argument from me to the effect that there are only two VIN stamps on a motorcycle––on the engine and the frame––would convince them to modify their position, even after I said I didn't want to register it for the street yet, just get the title in my name.

At that time Bob informed me there was no such requirement, and that it was commonplace for people to request titles on bare frames, and for them to be inspected, researched, cleared,  and transferred to their new owners. It seemed as if all that needed to be done was convince the locals that a frame and engine were all they needed to see.

Realizing I was hitting my head on a brick wall, Bob asked me to send  tracings of the engine and frame numbers, photos of same, a condensed version of the saga of anger and frustration of dealing with stubborn and unimaginative civil-service drones, and all the original documents I had to the head office, via certified mail. I did that.

From then until a few days ago, the huge packet of documents and letters of explanation and photos that I had sent in support of my application to transfer the title to me worked its way through the bureaucratic digestive system sluggishly, like a piece of rotten meat. Yesterday it was returned to me by mail, and when I opened it and read the cover letter, it was immediately apparent that no one at the DMV had bothered to read the letter I sent, or look at the enclosed documentation. My application was rejected due to the lack of, among other things, a VIN inspection.

I called Bob straight away. He said he'd look into it, and get his manager to straighten out the hicks at the local office and tell them how things are done in the Big City. I'm paraphrasing here.

This afternoon, while I was out of the house, Bob phoned and apologized for being mistaken about the "substantially complete" requirement––it is, in fact, in the regulations. He cannot, of course, tell how how substantial "substantially" is. The only definition in the regs applies to cars, not motorcycles.

While awaiting resolution of the quest for the title, which sounds like an online role-playing game for spotty adolescent boys, I reduced the SR500 to half a dozen boxes of big, easily identifiable parts, and about a hundred labeled zip-lock bags full of nuts, bolts, screws, dowel pins, ball bearings, and utterly mysterious widgets. Putting the bike back together, even "substantially," will be a gigantic festering pain in the butt. Also, I don't have some important parts––shocks, an exhaust system, tires, brakes, turn signals––so I'm not sure whether the assholes (yes, I said it) at the DMV will accept whatever Frankenstein's monster of a bike I bring them to inspect.

And so, yet again, Project Gift Horse is on hold, this time while I ponder how much heartburn owning a nicely restored SR500 is worth enduring. Stay tuned for further developments, but don't hold your breath. I sure won't.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Project Gift Horse: The Genesis

Leafing through old bike magazines last night looking for something else, I found this in the  Oct/Nov 1986 Cycle Guide. The pic is of the first SR500 I owned, the one that made me want another one.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thunder at CAM: Classic Coast

photo by Philip Koenen

As a resident of the southern Oregon coast for more than 20 years, it never ceases to amaze me that there are so many stashes of classic motorcycles located here in an area so well-known for rust, mildew, salt-air corrosion, and overall environmental animosity toward metal. But there are, and some of the best examples of several of these collections are on display at the Coos Art Museum, in Coos Bay, Oregon, through July 23.

The show is called Thunder at CAM, and in addition to the usual suspects, such as Harley-Davidson, Indian, BSA, and Triumph, there are some very nice Japanese bikes on display, as well as a few unique entries you might not see anywhere else.

The website will tell you all you need to know about the bikes on display, and the exhibit hours, so I'll add only that the Coos Art Museum is a small, intimate space where you can get closer to the bikes than you can in many other museums. The Oregon coast is a great place to ride, and Thunder at CAM makes it even better.

photo by Philip Koenen

photo by Philip Koenen

photo by Mike Holm

photo by Philip Koenen

photo by Mike Holm

Friday, May 27, 2011

Project Gift Horse: The Inside Story

Short and sweet report today. Top end looks good. No scoring on the piston or cylinder, no galling on the cam or rocker arms. Looks like a well-cared-for, low-mileage engine. Score!