Monday, April 18, 2011

Willamette Valley Loop

The weather in Oregon this Spring has been extremely cold and wet. Dry, sunny days are as rare as a Congressional Republican in favor of tax hikes on the wealthy. Sunday was dry, partly cloudy, and not overly cold (meaning, it was above freezing). So I rode.

I had never been to Gaston, Oregon so that was my first destination. I fueled up in Sherwood, then headed west through Laurel and Laurelwood, two amazing little communities. The climb up and over the hill between Laurel and Gaston provided phenomenal views east, and then west, of what the northern Willamette Valley has to offer. Once in Gaston I headed south on Hwy 47.

I was getting hungry by the time I got to Monmouth so I stopped at J's 99 Cafe for second breakfast. Once that was done my GPS got confused, thought Philomath was north of my location, and got me lost in a neighborhood trying to find the highway southeast. I had to use my Jedi Navigation Skills to find it, but once I did it was smooth after that.

The Kings Valley Highway, 223, runs from Rickreal south to Philomath and is a must-ride. I saw 30+ sport bikes heading northward as I rode south. The skies were cloudier the further south I rode but the pavement remained dry. Even the rooster ring-necked pheasant standing on the side of the road in Pedee agreed it was a day worth enjoying.

In Philomath I turned east and crawled through the Corvallis area before crossing over I-5 and into Lebanon. Again, my GPS was ass-backwards and steered me wrong. I had to ride north on Hwy 20 before cutting back east through Crabtree. From there I knew the way by heart and only referenced my GPS for speed verification.

I fueled up again in Sublimity and noticed something interesting, albeit purely coincidental. My second fuel-up of the day was only 7/100ths different than the first, in terms of gallons consumed. Once in Mulino I veered east again to pass through Colton, then up to Estacada and Sandy and home. The day's ride was 250 miles.

Map route

Monday, April 11, 2011

I'm in the latest Aerostich catalog

The 2011 annual Aerostich catalog came in the mail today. It's kind of like the Cabelas catalog but for motorcyclists. I was reading it cover to cover as I usually do, and was pleased to see Neil Peart sporting their new leather Transit suit on page 5. I always figured one of his quotes would appear in the catalog, not a full picture.

Page after page, I kept turning. When I came to page 152 I saw something very familiar. On the bottom half of the page was a photo of yours truly standing over Kiger Gorge on Steens Mountain, wearing my Aerostich Darien jacket, showing its distinctive retro-reflective strip across the back. It was a picture taken by Janice, a friend from California that went to Steens with me and her husband, Mark, back in September, 2010. The caption reads:

"Traffic? What traffic? (Steve Williamson standing over Kiger Gorge on Steens Mountain in Southeast Oregon. Photo by Janice Nelson, 2010)"

I had sent the photo to Aerostich shortly after returning from the trip. They thanked me for the pic but never said another word about it.

New site format

I am experimenting with an entirely new site structure and engine. I am currently using Wordpress for this blog, but am contemplating switching to Drupal.

Please check out the new site at and let me know what you think.

Wash and ride

The weather in Oregon apparently didn't get the memo about global warming. I guess that's why they call it climate change instead. The planet is getting warmer, on average, but some areas will actually see colder and wetter weather. So far in 2011, Oregon has been acting more like southeast Alaska. It has been cold and wet and dry days have been few and far between.

Saturday was dry, although not overly warm. I started at 8 AM, pulling my V-Strom out of the garage, hooking up the garden hose for the first time since last Fall, and giving my bike a much needed wash. I ride all year and washing it during the Winter months is like trying to make the bed while you're still sleeping in it. It took a while but eventually I got all the nastiness off. After giving it a towel-dry, I pulled it back into the garage and propped it up on the center stand to re-lubricate the chain.

After doing a few other chores around the house and eating brunch, I decided to get a ride in. I fueled up in Estacada, then headed up the Clackamas River highway 224 toward Ripplebrook Ranger Station. On this run I focused on practicing smooth cornering while hanging off the side for better cornering speed. It takes some getting used to and looks rather dramatic. It's also unnecessary because I don't corner fast enough for it to matter. However, it's a lot of fun and that's reason enough.

Just before crossing the river at Indian Henry Campground I saw three guys identically dressed in blue and white leathers taking pictures of their three identical blue and white Yamaha sport bikes lined up in a pretty, neat row. We waved and I zoomed over the bridge and up the hill on the other size. Once at Ripplebrook, I turned around and headed back down the river to home.

This run is about 65 miles round-trip and includes mostly big sweepers with a few slower curves thrown in for variety. The scenery is dramatic and there are no stop signs once you leave Estacada. There are occasionally slow cagers and every once in a while I see law enforcement, usually on summer Saturdays when the sport bikes hit the road.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A shameless plug...

... Spark plugs, that is. Friday after work I rode over to Yamaha Sports Plaza for some scheduled maintenance work on my 2007 V-Strom. After 35,000 miles, it was time for a new air filter element and spark plugs. I went with the touted K&N air filter and the NGK spark plugs recommended by the service manager, Steve. While there I had them grease the speedometer sensor in the front axle. After a while it can dry out and make an odd chirping noise.

I rode home before the rain started. To anyone that isn't aware of what's been going on in Oregon lately, we've had an extremely wet winter and Spring. March had one or two days without measurable precipitation, and that was it. It's been nothing but rain the rest of the time, and lots of it. The few dry days we've had have been noteworthy, and even die-hard web-footed Oregonians are starting to grumble about the sun's absence.

It was dry again on Sunday, so I rode up to Ripplebrook ranger station and back. It's one of my standard routes. The bike performed great and the new air filter and spark plugs make it feel like new again. It never felt old and has been rock solid for all 35,000 miles, but psychologically it felt new again. You know what I mean.

I've been practicing leaning off the bike a little bit on my turns, a la Leon Haslam and Valentino Rossi, etc. I don't corner fast enough for it to be necessary but it's fun to do. I'm considering taking a Total Control course and being able to lean off your bike is one of the things they teach you. Lately I've been dreaming of getting a sport bike in addition to my V-Strom. I don't necessarily like to go fast but I really like carving up the twisties.

From a practical standpoint, a sport bike doesn't make much sense, though. My V-Strom is capable of harder cornering than I am, so why get an even more capable bike until my skills jack up enough to utilize it? That's where Total Control comes in. Not only is it a good idea to gain further mastery of the bike from a safety and confidence standpoint, I think the new skills it imparts would add some excitement to an already exciting motorcycle. Cornering like a sport bike is fun, but having the skill to live to do it again another day is even better.