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!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Project Gift Horse: But Wait, There's More

Yesterday, while out riding the V-Strom, I decided to pay a call to Philip Koenen, owner of  Grand Touring Garage. Philip and I were introduced by a mutual friend some time ago, and we subsequently discovered both of us had connections through the motorcycle industry. Although most of his restoration and custom work has been with cars, he has built some outstanding bikes, a few of which you can see on his website.

I wanted to ask Philip about my bead-blast vs. hot-tank dilemma. We sat down in his office and he talked me through the process of bead basting, cleaning, and preserving the finish of aluminum engine parts. Then he floored me by generously offering to let me use his blasting equipment, giving me access to a special stash of GM powdercoat he has, and hooking me up with the painter and chromer he uses. He even knows someone at Yamaha's U.S. HQ in SoCal who can assist with the acquisition of hard-to-find parts.

By the time I left my head was swimming with possibilities. Some of the parts that came with the bike that I had considered to be beyond redemption are now usable. Other parts that I don't have might now be within reach.

I sure hope I get that title mess figured out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Project Gift Horse: No Going Back From Here

The engine came out this morning. The Haynes manual said, "The engine is not particularly heavy, but is difficult to grasp." The grasping part is easier if you leave the kickstarter on and use it as a handle. The engine sure felt particularly heavy yesterday...before I found the wiring harness and the oil line I'd forgotten to disconnect. Once I did that it just about fell out of the frame.

The registration problem is as yet unresolved, but yesterday I talked to a machinist who is into restoring old cars and motorcycles. He has a bead-blasting cabinet he's willing to let me use for cheap, and a sandblasting rig I can use on the frame. A thread I started on an internet forum warned me off media blasting to clean up aluminum engine parts, suggesting hot-tanking instead. The machinist tells me he's bead-blasted motorcycle engines for years and never had a problem; meticulous clean-up is important, but not difficult. Besides, I really like the look of bead-blasted engines.

That's still in the future, though. The next job is to tear down the engine to see what the insides look like. As previously mentioned, I intend to rebuild it to stock specs, so I'll be looking to reuse everything that isn't worn out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Project Gift Horse: Oh, What The Hell

Notwithstanding my unwillingness to spend money on a bike I can't yet register, I put some sweat equity into it yesterday and started pulling the engine. If you didn't already know the 500cc single is a real boneshaker, you'd suspect it right away based on the number of places it's bolted solidly to the frame. Along the way I took photos of every part of the bike, zooming in on where the wiring harness is routed.

As I removed bolts and widgets and mounting plates I put them in labeled zip-loc bags. If you've ever taken something large and complicated apart, and then tried to put it back together again a long time later, you'll know why I did this. Some of the parts that came off the bike weren't worth wasting a plastic bag. I'll find or improvise new ones as needed.

I stopped just short of taking the engine out of the frame. As simple as this bike is, the engine is heavy, and my back hurts if I just think about bending over and wrestling that lump of metal out and onto the floor. I'll wait until I can coerce a buddy into helping me.

Yesterday I also sent off an envelope to the former owner at his last known address, which is on the back of the California pink slip. In it is a blank Oregon bill of sale, a letter explaining that I now have the bike he bought in 1992, and a polite request to sign the bill of sale so I can get on with Project Gift Horse.

Prior to mailing it, I Googled the former owner's address. I have no idea what was there in 1992, but now, it's a Salvation Army halfway house.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Project Gift Horse: The Paper Chase

Well, that sucks.

I took Gift Horse's California pink slip and bill of sale to the local DMV office a while ago. I'll spare you the back-and-forth, but the gist of it is this: I need to contact the last person on the bill of sale (which was signed off in 1992) and get him to sign the bike over to me. The way I do this is to write him a letter; if the letter comes back with answer, problem solved. If the letter comes back marked undeliverable because the addressee has moved or died or whatever, then I bring the unopened letter to the DMV, along with the bike, and they'll "review" my application for an Oregon title in my name.

My understanding of the word "review" in this context does not include a guarantee that I'll be given the title. I'm unwilling to spend money on a bike I can't register and ride, so Project Gift Horse is on hiatus for now.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Project Gift Horse: And So It Begins

If you're looking for a way to make a few hours fly by unnoticed, start taking apart an old motorcycle you want to rebuild. This afternoon I took off the gas tank, rear fender, ignition switch, headlight shell, and instruments, and put all the small things in labeled zip-lock bags so I don't end up with one big box full of unidentifiable stuff when it's time to put it all back together.

The gas tank is spotless inside, although it's been used–the paint under the front of the seat is scuffed–and there's no petcock. I don't know yet if the instruments work. The headlight shell and the instrument cans are pretty rusty. I'm not sure I can save them, or if I want to.

In the short time the bike has been here it's already left a small pool of oil under the engine. The countershaft seal is bad, but like every other seal and gasket in the engine it'll be replaced. I want to rebuild the engine to stock specs. I know a lot of people pump up Yamaha 500cc singles. I've done it myself, with an XT500-based road racer I ran a long time ago. But to me the trade-off in terms of starting and noise isn't worth the small increase in power. If I wanted a fast motorcycle I'd have bought a 10-year-old sportbike.

Monday morning I have to go to the DMV to see about the title. I have the original California pink slip, signed off by the owner, and a bill of sale from 1992 transferring ownership of the bike to someone else for the sum of $50, but no paperwork after that. Having grown up in California, and having dealt with the state-run sanctuary for unemployable misanthropes that is the California Department of Motor Vehicles, I feel a looming dread at the prospect of trying to claim rightful possession of the SR with such sketchy documentation. But Oregon is very unlike California in many ways, and with luck this will be another one of them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Project Gift Horse: Prolog

Blogger burped yesterday and sent this post into the ether, so here it is again, my latest project. Feast on its bedraggled spendor. Marvel at its melange of mismatched componentry. More later...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Moto Archaeology

Today I got ambitious and tackled a long-delayed clean-up in the garage. I had six or seven large boxes full of motorcycle stuff I've been carrying from house to house for years without looking inside to see if what they contained was worth keeping. Here's a partial list of what I found:

• A complete valve-shim set for air-cooled, two-valve, four-cylinder, GS-series Suzuki engines

• A 35mm film can full of valve shims, both opening and closing, from my Ducati 900 SS Darmah

• A header-pipe wrench for the same Ducati

• The speedometer from my 1970 R5 Yamaha

• A set of valve-cover bolt seals from my CBX

• Factory valve-shim tools for the CBX and the CB900F I once owned

• A box of racing spark plugs from my TZ250

• A pair of new rear-shock springs for a CB400F

• A single gasket for the top cover of one of the CB400F's carbs

• A complete set of Mikuni hex main jets from 110 to 380, a pair of each

• The cover for the air-cooled clutch of a 1974 TZ250A

• An exhaust valve from a Honda CR110 50cc production roadracer I once bought in boxes for $400 and later sold in the same boxes for $600, congratulating myself on making a $200 profit on a bike that would become a sought-after and insanely valuable classic 10 years later

• Several pages of notes from my racing days containing detailed port dimensions of the RD350 I ran in the production race at Daytona in 1975; the same dimensions for a TZ750; gearing, tire pressures, and fast lap times for a 1974 race at Sears Point and another in 1975 at Laguna Seca; and notes from my 1975 Daytona Novice race (best practice lap time, 2m31s; gearing on the TZ, 15/34; premix ratio, 20:1 Castrol R-30; 290 main jets; tire pressures, 30/32; and the reminder that the 76-mile Novice race took about 4 gallons of gas)

When I started the garage clean-up, I told myself if I hadn't used something in the last two years, out it went. Everything listed above fit into that category. But I figure since I did toss six boxes of junk, I could keep just one little one, taped shut and marked DO NOT TRASH, EVER!!! in thick felt-tip marker. I defy you to tell me you wouldn't have done the same.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Movin' On

One of the best things I ever did during my motorcycling life was to get involved with the Iron Butt Association. From it, and the people in it, I learned how to ride safely and efficiently, over long distances and short hops. I rode more than 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours just to see if I could do it, and found out I could, which was incredibly empowering.

Lately, though, I'm beginning to think I took it a bit too seriously. For years I've held myself to the IBA ideal of covering lots of miles in a short amount of time, even if it wasn't necessary to do so on a particular ride. In learning how to ride far, I forgot how to ride easy, forgoing rest breaks to stretch my aching knees and shoulders, and pressing on to adhere to a timetable that existed only in my mind.

Age catches up with all of us. Some of you are seeing it in the rear-view mirror as a speck in the distance, slowly gaining on you. I don't need the mirrors to sense its presence, because it's riding pillion with me. Old injuries that never healed are slowing me down, sometimes sapping the joy of riding from even the coffee rides that constitute my afternoon break from the tyranny of the keyboard.

Part of the problem is that lingering feeling that I have a standard to live up to, the responsibility to justify the IBA license-plate backer on my bike that says "World's Toughest Riders." I don't feel very tough lately, at least not without a few ibuprofen coursing through my bloodstream, but I still love riding. So I'm going to try something different.

There was a time when I could ride 400 miles a day, grab a bite to eat, and do another 150 after dark before finding a motel. These days I'm toast after about 200, so I don't plan any days longer than that, and I don't like riding after dark any more, so I make sure I'm off the road by dusk.

During the ride, if I see something interesting, I'll stop and take a closer look. It not only breaks up the monotony of the ride, it gives me a chance to get off the bike and stretch. That means I might not go more than 50 miles at a time between stops, but since I'm going only 200 miles that day, it's no problem.

This strategy, which I call combat moseying, is nothing new to most riders. But it's new to me, and I like it. Today I rode about 100 miles in five hours, stopping to take photos, grab a coffee, and generally goof around. It was grand. In mid-June I'm riding to Seattle for a long-distance rider get-together, a distance of about 400 miles from here one way. I'm taking two days up and back.

All during that trip I'll be using IBA techniques to make the ride as safe and efficient as possible. I'll be using my own techniques, which I'm still sorting out, to make it as much fun as possible. I've finally learned it's not the miles you cover that counts, but how you cover them.

Friday, April 29, 2011

...And We're Back

Life is what happens while you're making other plans. I certainly never planned to be writing about cars, but that's how it worked out. It's like this...

When American Rider magazine went under in 2009, it blew a huge hole in my annual income from writing. The next year was not in any way fun. That I'd be still living in a house today, and not in a refrigerator carton behind a convenience store, was not entirely a given. Then, at the end of last year, I reconnected with Jeff Karr, whose job at Motorcyclist I took over in 1988 after he became editor of Motor Trend

Jeff was doing some work for an automotive website called Automedia, which ran another site called Real Car Guys. RCG was looking for another blogger, and thanks to a good word or two from Jeff, I was offered the job. Now I write for both sites.

The car guys keep me busy with daily deadlines, and sometimes I write two or three stories a day. So when the metaphorical five-o'clock whistle blows I'm outta here. Sad to say, this means I no longer have the time or energy to work on Cycle Guide Magazine. My partner in that blog, Dain Gingerelli, is involved in another project that leaves him in the same position. CGM has been dormant since December, and is likely to remain that way for some time. 

But every now and then I get the urge to blather on about something to do with motorcycles in the faint hope someone out there will be entertained or educated. When and if the urge hits me strongly enough, I'll try to live up to both of those ambitions.

So if you were a regular reader here in the past, or if you're only here because a long-forgotten subscription just sent you an email about a new post on this blog ("Tread Life? What's that? Damn spammers..."), welcome. I'll do what I can to make your subsequent visits worthwhile.