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!"