Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cold maintenance rides

This is the time of year when I seldom ride for fun. I commute occasionally, as weather and errands allow (I oftentimes have to run errands that require the use of a four-wheeled vehicle). I also try to ride each bike at least once a week just to keep it running. I don't like to let my vehicles sit.

One tip I've read is to either park your bike with a nearly empty tank and fuel stabilizer added, or better yet, park it with a full tank of fuel. When bikes sit for long periods, water condensation can form on the inside of the tank. If the tank is full, there is very little exposed surface area inside where condensation can form. That is why I choose to keep my tanks full when they are parked.

I'm not a mechanical expert by any means, so if any of my knowledgeable readers want to pipe in and comment on the validity of this approach, I'd appreciate it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Cortech Scarab Winter Gloves

A few months back I purchased a pair of Cortech Scarab Winter Gloves from for $78. I wanted a 1) leather 2) gauntlet-length 3) waterproof glove with 4) knuckle armor. I also didn't want to spend more than $180 for the pair.

After reading a LOT of product reviews, I chose the Scarabs. My short review is: they have met my expectations.

I have worn them while riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, which has no hand guards or heated grips, in temperatures ranging from 70 degrees down to 40 F. I have worn them on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650, which has hand guards but no heated grips, in temperatures from 55 degrees down to 40 F. The gloves are surprisingly warm, which is code for: it takes 45 minutes before my hands get cold instead of 15 minutes like most multi-season gloves.

They are somewhat stiff when operating controls but after putting a few dozen hours in them I can tell they are breaking in and loosening up a bit. They are comfortable, easy to put on and take off, and don't make my hands sweat (which is rare; I have sweaty hands). I've not tried to put the gauntlet under my jacket sleeves and I doubt it would work if I tried. These gloves are allegedly waterproof, but I've not yet ridden in anything other than occasional showers. Normally when it's raining hard, you want your jacket sleeve to fit over the glove. The gauntlet on these is big enough that it's not feasible to do so. If I were wearing these in anything more than moderate rain, I'd wear my Aerostich triple-digit rain covers over the top.

My ultimate test of a product's worthiness is value: does it's features and quality exceed the cost? In the case of the Cortech Scarab Winter Gloves, I definitely feel they do. They are a good value in an armored, gauntlet-style waterproof glove.

Update: 12/31/2012

I have since worn the Scarab's in colder temperatures, down to the upper 30's, riding both my V-Strom with hand guards and my Gixxer (no hand guards). The gloves work reasonably well and I maintain adequate dexterity. I have used them with a pair of silk glove liners and find my hands are comfortable quite a bit longer before they get cold. So far I would say these gloves exceed my expectations.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

There's a change in the weather

It's amazing what can change from one month to the next. In western Oregon, we had record-setting low precipitation from July through September. And then October arrived and said, "Eff that!" I think October may have set a new record for high precipitation.

This is the season when my Gixxer becomes sad. I'm not afraid to get the bike wet but I'm concerned about riding a bike with so much torque and horsepower on wet pavement. This time of year, when all the leaves are falling, is especially dangerous because the wet roads are extra slick.

In other news, I'm already itching for another long trip. Normally I don't start getting the urge to plan long bike trips until January or February, but this year it has hit me early. The fatigue and strain of my 5,000 mile trip back in June is long past and over time the positive memories and feelings of such a journey take dominance. This time, I'm longing to go somewhere even more exotic. Perhaps an early Spring ride to Death Valley to see the blooms? Or maybe a mid-summer jaunt further up into Canada?

Monday, October 8, 2012

To Astoria the gnarly way

There are usually several ways to get from Point A to Point B. As my readers should know by now, I seldom use the shortest-distance-is-a-straight-line route. Sunday was no exception.

Here's the route I took on Google Maps.

I met my buddy, Brutus, at a gas station in Beaverton at 9:30. We chatted for a bit and discussed his new bike, a 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250, as well as his day-glo jacket and pants which has earned him the unofficial nickname, "The Noticeable One." We then headed west on Highway 26 before cutting southwest onto Highway 6. A few miles later we turned north on Timber Road. The surface is in fantastic shape and the curves are plenty and offer a nice variety. There are a lot of driveways to farms and plenty of woods, so critters and slow locals are to be watched for. We had to stop for a dog and a cat in the roadway less than a half-mile from each other.

We soon reached the creepy town of Vernonia. I'm sure it's a great place to live, but every time I've been there I have felt like I was in a Stephen King novel. It's hard to describe but many others I know have felt the same way when visiting the town. Regardless, we were soon through the town and on our way on Highway 47 north, then onto 202 west.

Highway 202 cuts through the northern Oregon coast range and is definitely not a main thoroughfare. It goes through the community of Jewell and its famous elk viewing areas (no elk for us, sadly). The road is narrow and winding and really taxes the rider due to its rough condition. The far west end has seen some repaving but the rest really puts your shocks to work. Riding my V-Strom on 202 is not much of an issue because it can handle the rougher ride, but by the time I went to Astoria and back on my GSX-R750, my back and wrists were starting to complain.

Brutus and I gassed up and ate lunch at the Dairy Queen in Astoria before going our separate ways back home. He headed south on 101 to Seaside where he caught Highway 26 for a straight shot east to his home in Beaverton. I backtracked on 202 to where it met rural highway 103 south. I had never been on this road, so I took the turn and followed it to its junction with Highway 26, busy with weekenders heading back to the city from their visit to the coast. 103 was a delight, with great curves, scenery, and road surface. It was all too short, though.

Back on Highway 26, I resigned myself to freeway riding for the rest of the trip home. I made it through the city and out onto the east side route on I-84 before getting home 265 miles later. I was exhausted but happy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Start them young

A co-worker's wife and four kids visited him at the office. While in the conference room, one of his daughters looked out the window and saw a tall, grey and black motorcycle parked outside. "Daddy! Daddy! Come look! There's a motorcycle outside!"

When I ride, I often see small children staring at me, eyes wide and mouth agape, as if a wizard riding a red dragon just landed in front of them. It's a sense of awe that I recall experiencing when I was a kid whenever I saw motorcycle riders.

We went outside and each of the four little ones got a chance to sit atop the V-Strom and get their picture taken. This little guy was absolutely dwarfed by the tall bike but definitely seemed to grasp that it was something special despite his very young age.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Funny quote of the day

"Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary, what's what gets you."
Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear

Monday, September 17, 2012

Racing R1s from Detroit

After a ride to Detroit and back on Saturday, the fantastic riding weather was too tempting to deny so on Sunday I headed out once again on the Gixxer.

I fueled up in Estacada, then rode straight through to Detroit where I drank a Frappucino and ate a Snickers bar before heading back. I didn't get gas in Detroit as I usually do, making the calculation that my bike would make the roundtrip on a single tank of gas (Gixxer's don't have a fuel gauge). Once I left Detroit, I caught up with a guy on a Yamaha FJR1300 that was loaded up for a long trip. He quickly waved me past and I zoomed forward. He followed me until the turn off to Timothy Lake, at which point I saw him do a U-turn in my mirrors. I think that was the way he wanted to go.

Not much farther down the road I heard a "Whoosh!" and saw a guy on a black Yamaha R1 zoom past me. I quickly caught up with him and was soon riding up his tailpipe on the corners. He was riding fairly aggressively, going fast in the straights, but he had a disjointed style in the corners and wasn't taking them very efficiently. Soon I passed him as well as numerous cars.

Before I knew it I got to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and stopped under some shade in the parking lot. Less than a minute later he pulled in and parked next to me. We chatted for a couple of minutes before his buddy on a red and white anniversary edition R1 showed up. Finally their third buddy on an FZ1 pulled in and the four of us talked for about five minutes about bikes. They couldn't say enough good things about my GSX-R750 and were blown away when I mentioned it apparently has a top speed of 180 mph, stock. The stock 1000 cc R1 can only go 6 mph faster than that. They were in somewhat of a hurry to get back into town so they pulled out and headed down the road. I put my gloves and helmet on and sought out to catch up to them.

It didn't take long before I was right behind them, on the hill down to the river crossing at Indian Henry Campground. Between there and the next bridge just before Three Lynx I passed the FZ1; he didn't appear to be a very good rider. Soon after the red and white anniversary edition R1 waved me past. I was then up the tailpipe of the first guy on the black R1. Again, he wasn't riding very smoothly, actually tucking down against his tank when going into corners. This is opposite of what should be done. I quickly went past him, too. They had a hard time keeping up.

The three guys finally caught up with me at the construction stoplight just west of Promontory Park. They followed me the rest of the way into Estacada where I pulled into town to get gas and they continued on westward.

It was a fantastic ride and I had a huge grin on my face when I got home.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to happiness

I've put over 600 miles on my Gixxer 750 since I bought it two weeks ago. During that time I've ridden my 2007 V-Strom 650 once; I commuted to work on it one day last week. When I bought the Gixxer I planned to ride both bikes for a year, at which point I would decide which bike I liked better and sell the other one.

Obviously, these are very different bikes. They serve different purposes and are suited for completely different types of riding. Many will say that a V-Strom can carve up the twisties nearly as well as a sport bike. Wait, who says that? Oh yeah, I've said it. Many times. And it's true, up to a point. Ultimately it all depends upon the skill of the rider. A good rider on a dual sport will do better than an unskilled rider on a sport bike, and not to brag, I have proven that to be true in my own experience (while riding my V-Strom).

This past weekend I rode to Detroit and back with my buddy, Keith. He was on his 2006 Ninja 250 and I was on my 2012 GSX-R750. The weather was great, the road was in good shape, and most of the traffic was going the other direction so very little passing was required. It was a fantastic ride.

I noticed that my cornering speed has been improving steadily as well as my comfort level with the bike. I can take the same corners faster and with greater ease than before. I've also noticed that I can take the same corners substantially faster than I can on my V-Strom. [I ride many of the same roads repeatedly for practice, so I've become familiar with every corner.] If my doppleganger was on my V-Strom trying to follow me as I rode my Gixxer, he would be lagging behind almost immediately. The difference is noticeable.

When I got home from the 160 mile ride I also noticed that I felt very little pain or discomfort from the ride. Normally, by the time I get home on my V-Strom I can't wait to get off the bike and give my body a rest. I'm getting used to the Gixxer's riding position and am learning how to grip the tank and use my feet to remove weight from my wrists and hands. Sport bikes are still not designed for comfort, but this is far less uncomfortable than I anticipated.

When I ride my V-Strom now, the brakes, suspension and acceleration feel mushy. The handlebars feel like they're a yard apart and the whole thing feels really tall. By comparison, my Gixxer feels like a total hard body, a toned and fit athlete that is ready and capable to handle anything I throw at it.

When it comes to which bike will be leaving my stable next year, I can see where this is going. The one test remaining is to take the Gixxer on a road trip. I've got saddlebags on order. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A brand new baby Gixxer

I just added a new steed to my stable. It's a brand new 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, and it's a beauty. As you can imagine, riding it is quite a bit different than my V-Strom 650 (yes, I still have my venerable 'Strom) both in handling and acceleration. The Gixxer gets up and goes like nobodies business, but only when I tell it to; it's very well behaved otherwise.

This bike was purchased from Lanphere's Beaverton Motorcycles in Tigard, Oregon. I handled all the sales and arrangements over the phone with their salesman, Delaney. I originally was seeking a GSX-R600 but both Delaney and I felt the increased torque, especially in low- to mid-range RPMs of the 750, better suited my riding style. I'm not a red-line kind of rider and that's where the 600's prefer to live.

I rode the bike home, took a break, then took it on a 30 minute jaunt on a nearby semi-twisty road. I'll take it back out again tomorrow morning. This process of ride, rest, repeat is a 3x heat cycle that breaks in the new tires. A common misconception is that motorcycle tires need to be scuffed up to break them in. Actually, they need to be heated up through riding and then allowed to cool down to do so. Usually three times is the charm. Otherwise, ride them nice and gentle for about 100 miles and that covers it, too.

The forward riding position is quite a bit different than the upright neutral position I'm used to on the V-Strom. I feel like a great deal more of my weight is on my hands, which is true. When riding at freeway speeds a lot of the oncoming rush of air against my chest helps alleviate some of that pressure on my hands. I also get a lot more bugs on my helmet's face shield due to a lack of windscreen protection. But on the plus side, the bike is super smooth, very capable, and truly feels at home when cornering. The 750 is considered to be one of the finest all-around sport bikes ever made and I'm confident I made a good choice. I look forward to putting a lot of twisty miles on it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Latest gear: HJC CS-R2 helmet and Garmin Zumo 220 GPS

When you ride as much as I do, no matter how well you take care of your gear it will eventually wear out. So is the case with my Garmin Zumo 450 GPS and my HJC SyMax II modular helmet.

My Zumo 450 GPS partially crapped out in Nevada on a recent 5,000 mile trip. It still showed my current location, speed, elevation, etc. but the touch screen stopped registering my input. The unit had been reliable although it occasionally became confused, as most GPS units are prone to be from time to time. I had to navigate the rest of the trip the hard way, using paper maps and turn logs that I would plot out the night before.

Getting around is easy enough the old fashioned way, but a GPS unit on your bike is very handy in some other ways. When you're in a city, they can efficiently guide you to nearby gas stations, restaurants, and motels. In larger cities, they help you find your way through the concrete jungle to critical junctions and highways leading out of town. A GPS can also tell you how far you are from the nearest gas station, which is invaluable when determining if you should fuel up now or head on down the road.

Garmin Zumo 220

I replaced it with a newer model, it's little brother, the Zumo 220. It is a no-frills unit that gets the job done with the features I need. Unlike the previous unit, the 220 uses a mini-USB connector to attach to the bike's power. Rather than snapping it into its mounting cradle, you must first plug the mini-USB connector into the back of the unit, then lock it into the cradle. This is an extra step, and it makes me miss the docking station used by the 450.

On the plus side, the 220 seems to lock onto satellites much quicker and the display is easy to see. I've yet to rely on it for city navigation or route plotting, but most of the functionality I need seems to be present.

HJC CS-R2 Storm Helmet

My first helmet was the HJC SyMax. It lasted about two years before an upgraded model came out, the SyMax II. Of course I upgraded, even though my old helmet was still functional. The SyMax II was comfortable and versatile and has served me well for several years and tens of thousands of miles. One of the drawbacks to both models, however, was an ill-fitting face shield. During moderate to heavy rain, water would run down the inside of the face shield because the top of the shield didn't seat completely against the rubber gasket across the brow of the helmet body. On especially cold rides I could feel the chilly air coming through that gap and onto my cheeks.

I'm loyal to the brand, both because of its value and because I know that their head shape fits me. My SyMax II has been showing its age lately and helmets should be replaced after 3-5 years of use anyway -- due to the gradual collapse of the interior padding, lessening its protective effectiveness in a crash -- so I shopped around for a suitable replacement.

This time I decided to go with a full-face model instead of a modular design. I wanted reasonable cost and features, no internal flip-down sun shade, and DOT-only certification; no Snell rating (Snell rated helmets subject the human skull to higher G-forces in an impact event; look it up). I also wanted a helmet with a design pattern on the outside rather than the plain colors I've been wearing to date.

I settled on the HJC CS-R2 "Storm" in grey. It is lightweight, has the feature set I wanted, and was surprisingly inexpensive. I paid $98 for it with free shipping from

I've ridden about 500 miles with it so far and really like it. I have to get used to the fact that I can't flip up the whole front part of the helmet like I could with my modular SyMax II. One downside is the face shield only has three detent positions; the first is barely open, which is great when fogging occurs, the other is in the middle and the top is all the way up. I wish it had 5 positions instead of three. The fit is fairly tight around my cheeks, so I find I ride with my mouth slightly open -- this narrows my cheeks, basically. I'm assuming the padding will deflate slightly over time. The size was spot on; I wear a small in all three HJC models I've owned. There are no hot spots, either. Although the helmet is quiet, there is a slight amount of wind noise from the top air vents, even when the vent is closed. When I raise my head into the full oncoming rush of air above my wind screen I can tell that a decent amount of air passes through the helmet. This is handy when riding in hot weather.

I've yet to wear the CS-R2 in rainy conditions, but close examination (and online reviews) show the face shield is pressed firmly against the brow gasket. Although I haven't treated the inside of the face shield yet, it fogs up very easily. I also noticed the clear face shield that comes with the helmet seems to have a slight gradation of tinting or perhaps polarization from top to bottom. It's subtle. I've ordered an additional shield, the HJ-09 in "Silver", from, to provide better tinting in sunny conditions.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ride report June 2012: Day 1

Sandy, OR to Coos Bay, OR

The weather was perfect for riding ... sunny and in the mid 60's. I started my route on roads through a fancy yet rural neighborhood, where rich executives from Portland have million dollar homes on 20 acre plots. I then took highway 99W down through the Willamette Valley to the college town of Monmouth where I headed west on rural Kings Valley Road. Along the way I followed a young buck deer as he ran down the center of the road, still in the velvet.

In Philomath I fueled up my bike at Chevron and my belly at the adjacent McDonalds, then headed west toward the coast on highway 34 through Alsea to the coastal town of Waldport. The road was in fantastic shape and traffic was light.

In Waldport I headed south in highway 101, then pulled over at the Smelt Sands wayside in Yachats (pronounced 'yaw-hots'). I walked down to the rocks and waves and took some pictures and even some video on my GoPro HD.

Back on the road I got stuck behind a land barge (RV) from British Columbia with a dozen cars piled up behind it. It took a while but I was eventually able to pass.

I got into Coos Bay and checked into the Best Western by 3:30 pm. After a nap and a shower I walked down to a local restaurant, Shark Bites, but they were closed so I ate next door at EZ Thai. The phad thai was adequate but unremarkable.

Ride report June 2012: Day 2

Coos Bay, OR to Fortuna, CA

I left Coos Bay at 8:30 am after a decent complimentary breakfast (with real food; the best of the trip). It was sunny and cool but not cold. Traffic on 101 was very light and I didn't stop until I got to Brookings, just north of the California border. I parked in the shade behind a gas/food mart and ate a snack. After a bio break, I continued over the California border for the first of three times in a single day.

I cut inland on highway 197 then connected with 199 to Cave Junction, back in Oregon. 199 is scary in some parts, narrow and winding with deadly consequences if you go off the pavement. I fueled up in Cave Junction after riding 180 miles. A tall guy in rafting sandals asked me several questions about my bike as I gassed it up. He was considering getting a V-Strom. I then ate a BLT at the My Place Cafe next door.

It was warming up so I opened my jacket vents before heading up and over the pass back into California to Happy Camp. Patches of snow were visible in spots along the roadside at the 4,600 foot summit but the road was dry.

It was getting even warmer so I removed my jacket liner, then got onto highway 96 westbound. Soon I came up behind two new V-Stroms, but they were riding so slow I soon passed them both with a beep-beep and motored onward. My next break was Willow Creek where I got on highway 299 for the last leg to Fortuna. I rode 380 miles to that point. Dinner was a really tasty Italian club sandwich and French saison beer at the Eel River Brewery next door to my Super 8. Both establishments are highly recommended for riders.

Ride report June 2012: Day 3

Loop day, Fortuna, CA

The day was spent riding a 270 mile loop in the area. These are my favorite roads and are worth riding a long ways to experience if you're not from the area. I headed inland, eastbound, on highway 36, then veered northeast on highway 3 from Hayfork to Weaverville. This section is gnarly and wicked and amazing on a motorcycle. It demands attention and offers a great reward to those who conquer it. In Weaverville I stopped at Trinideli for lunch. My friend, Mark, stopped by as he was driving home from Trinity Lake. After lunch, he drove on while I continued the loop by turning westbound on highway 299. Back on the coast, I turned inland and rode the narrow, winding road up to Mark's home in the rural community of Kneeland. Mark and I had dinner and a lot of laughs, then I rode back down the hill to my motel in Fortuna.

Ride report June 2012: Day 4

Fortuna, CA to Sparks, NV

When I left Fortuna at 8 am it was drizzling and cool as is typical of the Eureka/Arcata/Fortuna area. I headed inland once again on highway 36 and by the time I went up and over the first pass I had sunshine and blue skies.

Nearing Red Bluff the temperature was climbing so I pulled over and switched to my warm weather gear configuration ... Aerostich Darien jacket with vents open and minus the liner, and I opened the thigh vents on my Firstgear Kathmandu pants. As I rode the amazing roller coaster curves of 36 just west of Red Bluff, I kept feeling something hit my boots. Later I realized I was riding through crickets.

I fueled up in Red Bluff, then got lunch at a busy Subway before continuing east across I-5 on highway 36. From this point on, except for the last two days of the trip, I would be riding roads new to me. East of I-5, 36 is a lot of grass and scrub oak and heat. Eventually the elevation climbed enough to moderate the temperature. The road before and after Lake Almador was amazing as was the timber, tall and uniform.

Once I got to Susanville I fueled up my bike and continued on, now in hot, arid country. The border into Nevada was unmarked. Once I got into Sparks I used my Garmin Zumo 450 GPS to find the Super 8. It was a hotel, rather than my preferred motel, so I had to load all my gear on a cart and wheel it inside to my room. Once I got a quick nap and shower out of the way, I went to the casino/truck stop/restaurant next door for dinner. There were some shady people in there and it reminded me of the cantina scene in Star Wars IV, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious." (I am sure those truck drivers are salt of the earth good people, but they can present a rather gruff, scary first impression.) The chicken parmesan was pretty good.

Before I went to dinner I washed my ExOfficio t-shirts and underwear in the bath tub and hung them up to dry. My wool socks were the only thing I didn't attempt to wash by hand; I saved them for later when I could wash them in a motel with a laundry room.

Ride report June 2012: Day 5

Sparks, NV to Ely, NV
Highway 50, "The Loneliest Highway"

I survived highway 50, the loneliest highway in America. It certainly is that. Fortunately it wasn't overly hot. It was 92 degrees when I reached Ely at 2:15 pm. On the way, I fueled up in Austin (3.58 gallons) and got some grub in Eureka. Breakfast earlier that morning was again in the casino/truck stop next door to the Super 8.

Once in Ely I checked into the Ramada and ate dinner at Evah's inside the hotel. It is nasty and should be avoided. My room was nice, however.

I decided to wash my wool socks by hand. I use Dr. Bronner's peppermint castile soap and hot water, then I roll the socks in a towel and step on it to wring out the water. I draped them over the luggage rack which I propped in front of the AC unit.

The route for the next day showed a forecast of 98 degrees and lots of boring, dry scenery. I miss mountains and curves.

Ride report June 2012: Day 6

Ely, NV to Page, AZ

This was the hottest, toughest day of the trip so far, but had some truly amazing scenery. For everything worth having there is a price.

The day started with a continental breakfast at Evah's that was so-so. Then I discovered the touch screen on my GPS stopped working so I could no longer plot routes. It still showed my current location, speed and elevation, but I had to navigate the old fashioned way for the rest of the trip.

I headed south on highway 93 and got gas at a junction near the Utah border. Two presumably Mormon women in traditional dresses and hair styles stopped in a brand new Volkswagen SUV and got out to clean the windshield. They were absolutely beautiful but had sour expressions on their faces.

I made it into Cedar City, Utah and stopped for gas at a Sinclair station, then ate lunch at the Subway next door. A businessman in a suit chatted with me about my bike and trip as we waited in line, and he told me the scenery in Colorado would blow my mind.

I tried to take scenic route 14 east out of town but a few miles up the road was a blockade saying the road was closed. I saw a local drive around the signs and continue up the road but I didn't want to take any chances so I pulled over and figured out a detour using my printed AAA map. It required that I head south on I-15, then pass through Zion National Park.

The temperature was climbing fast and so was the traffic on the super slab. Pushing high speeds doesn't impress me and it uses up tires and oil, something I wanted to be cautious about on this trip, so I maintained a reasonable speed. At one point a roadrunner dashes across the hot freeway in front of me. Meep meep!

I pulled off the freeway at the exit for Zion, then paid $12 to go through the park. The canyon walls truly made me say, "Oh, $hit!" inside my helmet after every turn. It barely looked real. After climbing some hairpin switchbacks, the road enters a tunnel. The eastbound traffic had to stop and wait for a large RV to come out of the tunnel. As I was sitting there sweltering in my helmet and gear, I chatted with the ranger lady flagging traffic. She said she had just measured the ambient air temperature at 120 degrees. Yikes!

Eventually we were allowed to proceed through the tunnel. There are several windows cut out of the rock and into the open canyon air.

I eventually made it south and across the border into Arizona to the resort town of Page, near Lake Powell. It was hot and I was parched. Because my GPS was on the fritz, I had to ride around the loop through the entire town before I found the Super 8. The front desk staff were not very friendly but my room was cool and large and I was out of the heat. The nearest restaurant was a pizza joint about a quarter of a mile away across a Home Depot parking lot. The chef salad and beer were good, though.

Ride report June 2012: Day 7

Page, AZ to Durango, CO

The free continental breakfast that morning was nothing but meager pastries, juice and coffee, so once I was packed and ready, I rode into town and ate at a steakhouse that served breakfast. I also discovered small black ants in my room, over in one corner.

From Page, I headed south to Kaibito, then turned north toward Kayenta where I filled up my gas tank again. It was very warm, bordering on hot, and it wasn't even noon yet. The region is also very arid and sparse, but that can have it's own beauty. America’s hit song went through my head, "I've been through the desert / On a horse with no name / It felt good to be out of the rain..."

I then turned north on highway 163 and rode through Monument Valley. The view was just like you see in the movies, although the classic view is seen when traveling 163 from north to south, so I had to look in my mirrors and over my shoulder to see it.

Then I continued east through historic Bluff, Utah with its sandstone cliffs, through the Four Corners region, and into Colorado. I stopped in Durango and checked into the Best Western there. I had called ahead and made a reservation the night before.

Dinner was in the adjacent restaurant, the special rib eye steak. It was cooked perfectly and the meal was a good value. I did another round of bath tub laundry and got a good night's sleep.

Ride report June 2012: Day 8

Durango, CO to Manitou Springs, CO

The free breakfast at the Durango Best Western was adequate but lacked proteins. I then headed north on highway 505 to Montrose. The passes are beautiful and so was the road. It was breezy in Montrose where I gassed up and ate a snack. I then caught highway 50 east which was much drier than I would have thought. I could see the smoke from a wildfire to the south as I neared Pikes Peak.

Going over Monarch Pass was fantastic. The road was in great shape and other than dodging a pudgy marmot sprinting across the road the ride was fantastic. I stopped at the top of Monarch and took a picture of my bike in front of the Continental Divide sign, then continued onward.

Colorado drivers were beginning to frustrate me. They seemed to go 15+ over the speed limit in the straights but would slow WAY down for any kind of curve. They acted like they were freaked out by it and it seemed contradictory. But, that is better than Idaho drivers that are slow no matter what the circumstance.

The mountain towns of Silverton and Ourey remind me of those little villages you see pictures of in the Swiss Alps, quaint and small. Manitou Springs has a similar flavor, with a much busier, pedestrian friendly feel. My place of rest for the next two nights was the Best Western on the eastern edge of town, across from Garden of the Gods. I was very glad to check in as the area was beginning a record-breaking heat wave, with temps well into the upper 90's.

Dinner was at a pizza deli next door called Savelli's. The food was good and so was the service. My room was adjacent to the guest laundry so I got caught up in that regard as well.

Ride report 2012: Day 9

Local rides, Manitou Springs, CO

My goals for the day were to ride to the top of Pikes Peak and ride through Garden of the Gods. I got an early start up the mountain and was at the summit by 9:00 am. The view from the top is nice but you are so high above the valleys below that they almost seem abstract, like seeing the ground from an airplane. Still, it was definitely worth the fee and ride. The ride up seemed somewhat scary but for some reason the ride down was a piece of cake. The slow speed limit almost seemed like a needless frustration, although in practical terms it makes a lot of sense. Guard rails are rare and the drop offs are steep and frequent.

Back in town the heat was already climbing rapidly. I was boiling inside my gear as I rode through the Garden of the Gods park. It is a large park with numerous unusual and beautiful rock formations, criss-crossed by many hiking trails. It is definitely worth seeing and I would eventually like to hike around in the park ... on a cooler day.

I was back in my air conditioned room, chilling and resting by noon. After all that hot desert riding I needed a down day.

Ride report June 2012: Day 10

Manitou Springs, CO to Laramie, WY

I slept well and was up early. After the adequate free continental breakfast I was heading west on highway 24, then north on local route 67 through pine trees and hills to the junction with highway 285. It took me over Boreas Pass at 11,482 feet with some technical but fun switchbacks on the northern side.

I stopped and gassed up in Fairplay before turning north again on local highway 9. Wow, what a route! Hoozier Pass was amazing ... 11,541 feet and fast, too. I then rode through the famous and opulent ski town of Breckenridge. The downtown main street looks like something from a Hollywood set, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few movies were actually shot there.

At Dillon, where 9 meets I-70, I pulled into town and took a break at a Starbucks. Back on the freeway, it soon climbed to a tunnel at a pass at 11,158 feet. What a trip! A bit later I turned off of the freeway and caught highway 40 northbound for yet another section of fantastic Colorado scenery, including Berthoud Pass at 11,315 feet. So far the V-Strom had been tackling the high elevation passes, and even the 14,110 foot summit of Pikes Peak, without complaint. There is less power, obviously, but I only noticed it when attempting to pass.

I gassed up in the cowboy community of Granby before taking rural route 125 north. A sign said moose was in the area but I never saw any. I did see a three point bull elk about 50 yards off the road as he ran up into an aspen grove. I bet the area is beautiful in the fall.

By the time route 125 hit the town of Rand, I was out of the mountains and timber and onto the windy prairie. On the way I could see the smoke plume from a massive wildfire just west of Fort Collins. The plume looked similar to the one created when Mt. St. Helens erupted, which I witnessed firsthand as a kid.

I then crossed into Wyoming, my first visit to the most sparsely populated state in the lower 48. The temperature warmed a bit but it wasn't oppressively hot like it had been in Utah and Arizona. I found my motel in Laramie after filling up my fuel tank. The town of Laramie has the charm of dry toast and a glass of lukewarm tap water, but not as wet. There were no food options within walking distance so I ordered a Pizza Hut delivered to my room. Thunderstorms were predicted for the area, and some were intense, but they dodged Laramie leaving the dust on my bike intact.

Ride report June 2012: Day 11

Laramie, WY to Deadwood, SD

My bike's odometer hit 50,000 miles today, just south of Mt. Rushmore.

The continental breakfast at the Laramie Super 8 was lame. It was served in the walkway between the front door and the reception desk, so people walking in and out of the hotel were literally having to dodge the folks trying to grab a nasty, old pastry and burnt coffee. There wasn't even anywhere to sit! I grabbed an apple, a small cup of coffee and a packaged cinnamon roll and took them back to my room for reluctant consumption.

Before leaving town, I stopped at the Chuckwagon Cafe and ate a real breakfast before heading north out of town, with no intention to ever return. Until I reached South Dakota, the road passed through nothing but prairie and I saw many pronghorn antelope and deer along the way. In contrast, the hills of southwestern South Dakota are beautiful and look like some kind of manicured park.

The skies were threatening rain so I stopped at the Dairy Queen in Custer for a quick lunch and to switch to wet weather gloves and to put the waterproof cover over my tank bag. The rest of my gear was already waterproof. A few brief showers fell while I was inside the busy DQ but did little to remove the growing patina of dead bugs on my fairing.

With food in my belly, I continued north to the exit for Mt. Rushmore, seeing the unfinished Crazy Horse monument in the distance. The unusual rock formations surrounding Mt. Rushmore reminded me of a grey version of those found within Garden of the Gods back in Colorado, albeit a different color. The Rushmore monument itself was underwhelming, mostly because it was much smaller than I anticipated. I didn't want to pay the rather high fee just to park, so I rode past it, turned around and rode back toward the main highway. A few rain drops fell but I completely dodged the rather intense showers that were occurring all around me.

I eventually made it to Deadwood and checked into the Hickok House Best Western. After my usual routine of unpacking, taking a nap and then a shower, I was ready for dinner and a cold one at the restaurant next door. The service was good and the food was, too, including their green chicken chili.

The whole town of Deadwood is a national historic landmark and is well worth the visit. If you can, watch the HBO series of the same name as I hear it's actually fairly close to the real historic events (although it is still Hollywood, so take it all with a grain of salt).

Ride report June 2012: Day 12

Deadwood, SD to Greybull, WY

Pam, the waitress at the Best Western restaurant, was a hoot and really knew a lot about Deadwood history, specifically Al Swearengen and Calamity Jane. The food was excellent, too, especially the bacon.

My first stop of the day was Devil's Tower, but first I had to cross back into Wyoming. As I crossed the border from South Dakota, the wind picked up as if turned on by a switch. I don't think I spent a single second in the state of Wyoming without the wind blowing.

The side road to Devil's Tower is beautiful. Imagine pine trees, green grass, and rolling hills on a quality road with hardly any traffic. Yeah, it was that kind of experience. If you've seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, however, Devil's Tower itself is somewhat of a let down. It's cool, but it's exactly the same as you see in the movie so seeing it in person is somewhat underwhelming.

I backtracked back to I-90 and caught it westbound about 100 miles to Buffalo. That stretch of freeway, as you would imagine, is uninteresting.

I ate lunch at the busy Hardees in Buffalo before taking highway 16 west into the Big Horn Mountains. 16 was great except for the muddy and dusty (yes, both) construction and REALLY slow cars coming down the western slope of the mountains. The curves seemed to have these drivers freaked out of their minds and anything above 25 mph for them was out of the question. I eventually got past them.

The rest of 16 is hot and dry to Worland, then I turned north to Greybull for more of the same. There is a lot of erosion and the geology of the area looks like it was once under a great inland sea (which it was). Apparently a lot of dinosaur fossils are found in that area.

It was hot when I got to Greybull, a small farming community centered around a once-busy railroad switch yard. There was construction going on downtown but I looped around and found the Greybull Hotel from a back street.

The Greybull Hotel was unexpectedly one of the highlights of my trip. The owner, Myles Foley, is a great guy and a total crack-up. He's also one helluva great host. The hotel was built in 1914 and had a speakeasy in the basement. Myles gave me a full, personal tour. The room rates are an excellent value, too.

Dinner was in a common room of sorts on the ground floor, just inside the front door, although the restaurant proper is in the basement with a nice, cozy feel to it. I sat at the same table with several locals and we talked and laughed well into the evening. I had a great time meeting my new friends. The prime rib dinner that Myles had on special was fantastic, too.

John, one of the local regulars and the Realtor that sold the hotel to Myles, suggested I take a different route for the next day than the one I had originally planned. At first I intended to head straight west through Cody and into Yellowstone National Park, but John suggested I go north into Red Lodge, Montana, then enter the park over the Beartooth Pass. I'm so glad I took his advice.

Ride report June 2012: Day 13

Greybull, WY to Butte, MT
Through Yellowstone National Park

I walked to a really dumpy restaurant across the street for breakfast. Myles told me their breakfast was okay but their lunch and dinner was to be avoided. It got me fed without unpleasant after-effects, so no harm, no foul.

I took highway 310 north to Red Lodge where I gassed up, then began my climb up the Beartooth Pass. The road up climbs the northern face of a deep valley wall before reaching the spectacular summit at just a hair below 11,000 feet. The top has a 360-degree view of the surrounding snow-dappled mountains and it simply takes your breath away. I consider it the most spectacular scenery I have ever witnessed, even more so than Zion and Glacier national parks (although they're very close).

I then descended down the other side and entered the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. I never realized how large Yellowstone is. It cost me $20 to get in and took several hours to ride to the other side. The speed limit varies between 25 mph up to 45 mph, and I hear they can be pretty strict about violations. I saw a lot of buffalo, a mother black bear and her two cubs, and a lone, sandy-furred wolf loping along a river bank near a large buffalo. Lots of people were stopped to photograph it. I never saw any moose or grizzlies.

Out of the park, I stopped in West Yellowstone, Montana and gassed up, then ate a snack at a small but very busy McDonalds before continuing north to Butte.

Just north of Ennis the clouds above the mountains gave me a wonderful site. The virga -- rain that falls but never reaches the ground -- looked like blue and grey hair. I ended up riding almost completely around the storm without it ever getting directly above me. When I reached I-90 for the fast run into Butte, looking back I could see the storm had moved on top of the road I had just traveled.

Because of the slow slog through the park and the great distance I had to travel, this ended up being my longest day yet, time-wise. I left Greybull at 7:50 AM and didn't get to Butte until 5:45 PM. In Butte, I gassed up in preparation for the next day and checked into the very nice Best Western there. Dinner was a whiskey on the rocks and a chef salad in the lounge, then I went outside and cleaned the construction dust off my chain and added some oil to the engine.

Ride report June 2012: Day 14

Butte, MT to Grangeville, ID

I slept good, then ate breakfast in the adjoining Perkins restaurant. I had fueled up the day before so I was on the highway by 7:50 AM.

It was a 120 mile slog on I-90 once again to get to Missoula where I turned west on highway 12 to Lolo. I gassed up there, alongside two guys from Alberta, Canada riding Suzukis. One was a DL100 and the other was a Bandit. I smiled at them but they ignored me. I ate a snack, then continued on 12 up and over Lolo Pass.

I had to go around some really slow cars, all with Idaho license plates, then over the pass and down the other side. The road surface at the top of the pass was rough, but it smoothed out soon enough. The sun was out and it was a pleasant riding temperature, so the rest of the ride was very comfortable.

I stopped at the small Apgar campground to eat an energy bar and drink some water, then continued on. The 50 mph speed limit on highway 12 in Idaho is needlessly slow. The road is in great shape, the curves seldom get below a posted 40 mph, and the sight lines are more than adequate. I guess they just hate speed in Idaho.

Just past Lowell a group of six BMW riders come up behind me and soon they zoomed past, all with Alberta license plates. They all rode a different model of BMW, with a big R1200GS leading the pack. They were going at least 20 mph over the limit and were passing car after car over a solid no-passing line. I tried to keep up with them for a little while but their aggressive pace was a bit more than I wanted to risk from a speeding ticket standpoint.

Eventually they pulled off into a small park and I rode past and into Grangeville. I stopped at the first gas station and filled up my tank, and after coming back outside from a bio break, I saw the Alberta BMW Club pull into the station. They stopped, one rider got off her bike, they smiled at each other, then mounted up and took off again without getting any gas at all. I had no clue what that was about.

I checked into the Super 8 in Grangeville, a place I've stayed at before. The staff is very friendly and the value is excellent. I ran a load of laundry and after a shower, I walked to Palenques a few blocks away for a great dinner of Mexican food.

Back in my room, The Weather channel had that nasty warning tone, then a red ticker across the bottom saying there were dangerous thunderstorms in the area with quarter-sized hail and possible tornadoes. I went to the front desk to see if there was room for me to park my bike under the front overhang, but it was filled with Harley baggers. I left my bike exposed in the regular parking lot and took my chances. The storms apparently stayed 60 miles away in Washington state and avoided Grangeville altogether.

Ride report June 2012: Day 15

Grangeville, ID to John Day, OR

I ate a muffin and bowl of cereal in the hotel lobby, chased down with a cup of coffee, before packing up and heading into town for breakfast at Oscar's. The sign on the back door said they wouldn't open until 8 AM, a 45 minute wait, so I headed down the highway about 45 miles to Riggins.

I stopped at the Summerville Cafe for breakfast. The inside of the restaurant smelled like someone's damp, musky basement. My breakfast burrito was the size of a small child, but was adequately tasty. I overheard a few patrons make some seriously racist comments about President Obama and what would happen to him if he ever visited their town. I decided I'd better leave before the locals started playing banjo music.

Back on the road, I continued south through New Meadows and then into Cambridge where I fueled up. I then took highway 17 across the Snake River at Brownlee Reservoir and back into Oregon before hitting highway 86 to Baker City. That is a fast road with great sweepers and excellent site lines. The road surface is in pretty good shape, too, with very little gravel in the corners.

In Baker, I stopped once again at Subway for lunch. An older gentleman came up to me as I was eating and said, "You look like a biker." We chatted for several minutes, and he told me he had been riding for over 65 years. He wished me a safe trip and left.

I then gassed up at the Chevron in town and got on highway 7 heading southwest past Sumpter, then at Austin Junction I got on highway 26 and headed west into John Day.

I pulled into the John Day Best Western and got a room. The gal at the front desk was super friendly and gave me the same room I get every time I stay there.

Again, my usual routine of unpacking, taking a short nap, and showering preceded dinner in the lounge of The Outpost restaurant a block away.

Ride report June 2012: Day 16

Grangeville, ID to Sandy, OR

Breakfast was at The Outpost a few minutes after they opened at 6 AM. The food is always good there, especially their breakfast.

Eager to get home, I didn't waste time. I was on the road shortly after 7 AM. I topped off my tank in Dayville, then got on highway 19 through Kimberly and into the tiny town of Spray. I then worked my way to Fossil where I headed west on my favorite road in Oregon, highway 218, to Antelope.

218 is a lot of fun. There is a variety of curves, all banked perfectly, there are very few blind corners and sight lines are far, and the road surface is in fantastic shape. The road can bite you if you're not on your game, but if you get into the zone it's a thrill to run it.

I rode through Antelope, Shaniko, over Bakeoven road into Maupin, through Tygh Valley and into Wamic where I gassed up and ate a snack. I then took FS48 west, but had to detour onto FS43 to get to highway 26 as the rest of 48 to highway 35 remained closed, presumably due to late season snow (they don't plow it).

I was soon up and over the pass at Government Camp and back at home in Sandy by 12:30 pm.

Ride report June 2012: Summary

I had ridden 4,945 miles in 16 days (one of those days was just local riding and doesn't really count). I had ridden from sea level on the Oregon Coast to 14,110 feet atop Pikes Peak in Colorado. The southernmost point was Kaibito, Arizona, the eastern most was Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, and the northernmost was Missoula, Montana.

My bike performed without issue or complaint as did my riding gear. I wore t-shirts, underwear, and pants from ExOfficio, a combination that worked wonderfully in the heat, all of which could be washed in a motel sink and dried by morning.

While riding, I had a GoPro HD camera with waterproof housing sitting in my tank bag. I would often unzip the tank bag with my left hand, pull out the camera, press and hold the ON button, then film several seconds up to two minutes of the ride and scenery as it passed by before shutting it off and putting it back into my tank bag (all with my left hand).

I used an iPad and the free WiFi in my motels each night to check weather forecasts, review the next day's route, and keep in touch with family via email. I even used Facetime to video chat with my wife during the evenings.

The heat was probably the most challenging part of the trip, but even that is straightforward enough; it's really just mind over matter: "If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

5,000 miles in 16 days

I just returned from a solo 5,000 mile trip around ten western states that took 16 days to complete. I left Oregon, went south to California, then across Nevada, Utah, and northern Arizona into Colorado. I then turned north into Wyoming and spent a night in South Dakota before turning west back across Wyoming, into southern Montana, across Idaho and back into Oregon.

The trip ranged from sea level (the Oregon coast) to 14,115 feet (Pikes Peak) and saw temperature extremes from the upper 30's (Beartooth Pass, Montana) to 120 degrees (Zion National Park). The farthest south was Kaibito, Arizona, the farthest east was Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, and the farthest north was Missoula, Montana.

From a gear standpoint, my bike -- a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 -- ran without complaint. In the 5,000 mile journey it used up about 3/4 of quart of oil (which is pretty normal for modern bikes). The odometer rolled over 50,000 miles during the trip. My Garmin Zumo 450 GPS half-died about 1,000 miles into the journey. It's 5 years old so that's a pretty good lifespan for an electronic gadget that gets exposed to the elements. The standout gear of the ride, however, were my ExOfficio convertible pants. I wore them under my Firstgear Kathmandu riding pants and made the trip a lot more comfortable, especially when riding in high desert heat. They retain zero odor, and I could wash them in my motel sink, ring them out (roll them up in a towel and step on it) and they'd be dry in a few hours. Plus they are super light and pack really small, which is a huge bonus when traveling by motorcycle.

The standout scenery was Beartooth Pass in southern Montana, just northeast of Yellowstone Park. The low point in terms of interest was probably Laramie, Wyoming. The town has the character of day-old dry toast.

I met some really cool people (Jeff in Fortuna, CA; Pam in Deadwood, SD; and Myles and John in Greybull, WY) and saw some shameful racism in many rural areas toward our President.

The trip went without a hitch, basically. There were no pucker moments or involuntary get-offs and no run-ins with law enforcement. It barely even rained -- a few drops while visiting Mt. Rushmore.

Speaking of Mt. Rushmore, it was probably the biggest disappointment of all the big-name places I visited. It's much smaller in person than I thought it was from all the pictures and video I've seen of it on TV. In fact, the rock formations surrounding the monument are far more interesting. Devil's Tower in northeastern Wyoming was kind of a 'meh' moment, too, not because it isn't cool -- it is -- but because it's exactly like I've seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a kind of "Been there, done that" sort of moment.

I hadn't planned to visit Zion National Park but had to detour that way because of a road closure. Wow, what a place! I realize it's cliche to say so but pictures can't begin to do it justice. It's as if Mother Nature consulted some big-name Hollywood filmmakers when designing it.

One thing that kept crossing my mind was the viewpoint that several fundamentalist Christians hold concerning the age of the earth. I'm all for the freedom to hold personal religious beliefs, but anyone that thinks the planet is only 7,000 years old is exhibiting a willful denial of reality bordering on malignant ignorance. Just travel around the west and look at the mountains that were built up, eroded away, and built up again and see if that kind of geological activity could happen in a few thousand years ... or even in a few million. Wake up. It's okay if the planet is 4 billion years old. Really. It won't make you any farther from God to acknowledge what is obvious. If it makes you feel any better, remember what an old friend of mine used to say when asked about his view on dinosaur fossils vs. the Bible, "I don't know how it happened, I just believe God was involved."

When I go on these trips, I am often admonished by friends and family to takes lots of pictures. I took some, and I even took some video. In my tank bag was a GoPro HD camera and while riding I would often take it out and hold it with my left hand, filming various angles of the action. I've reviewed some of the footage and it worked pretty well. I plan to turn my photos and live footage into a produced video, with distribution to select individuals. Some photos will be posted here, but don't expect too much. Philosophically, I have been taking the attitude that these places aren't going anywhere; if you want to see them, go there yourself. I put in a lot of time, money, and sweat riding there and I feel somewhat reluctant to let others vicariously enjoy the benefits of that journey without paying some dues for the privilege. Sorry, but that's just how I feel.

Meanwhile, my bike is filthy and needs an oil change. My chain is also in dire need of replacement and my Aerostich Darien jacket looks like it's been to the moon and back (I love that jacket!) I also have 7 GB worth of video to edit. I'll report back when I have something to report.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

That first long day

My friend, Brutus (not his real name), got his motorcycle endorsement and first bike, a 2005 Kawasaki Ninja 250, a few months ago and has racked up about 2,000 miles commuting to work. So far, the bulk of his riding experience has been on urban freeways during rush hour. What a way to cut your teeth on a motorcycle! One of his goals is to ride with me on some multi-day trips, so we decided to spend a sunny Saturday on a long local ride to simulate the kind of riding typical of longer trips.

We met at the parking lot of Steigerwald Lake, an animal preserve on SR14 in Washington, just east of Camas. The sun was rising, the air was slightly cool, and there was very little wind. Brutus showed up on a yellow bike and wearing neon yellow jacket and helmet. Only his pants were black. He likes to be noticed! We chatted for several minutes about bikes and the day ahead, then set off. I took the lead at first with Brutus following but lagging slowly behind. I pulled over and waited for him to catch up. Since it was his first major ride on curvy roads, we decided it was best for him to set the pace, so he took off first and I followed.

He showed remarkably smooth form and had excellent body position for a beginning rider. We navigated the curves of SR14 and after 20 miles we pulled over at a gas station in North Bonneville for a snack break. The Columbia River Gorge is notoriously windy but fortunately we only had to contend with a slight breeze. Coupled with the sunshine and moderate temperature, it was turning out to be a fantastic riding day. Since Brutus was doing well in the lead, we pulled back onto SR14 and maintained that pattern as we continued east.

As we neared the bridge to Hood River, I passed Brutus and then pulled into a rest stop for another quick rest and discussion about the route ahead. The next stop would be a private game preserve that offers public access, but it was easy to miss, so I led the way. The forests of the cascades were soon behind us and we entered the grassland of the eastern slope. Just before reaching the junction with SR14 and Highway 197, I pulled to the left into a paved driveway up the hill to the north. The lane was bordered on both sides with high wire fences and it soon became clear why. To our right were dromedary camels and to our left were zebras. In the distance we spotted llamas and bison, and high atop a rocky crag some kind of exotic goat, perhaps an ibex. We turned around at the top and slowly rolled back down the hill, stopping several times to see what other kind of exotic animals might be seen.

It was getting time for lunch and gas. We crossed the pink metal bridge just below The Dalles Dam and fueled up at the Chevron, then crossed the highway for lunch at McDonalds. When both the riders and bikes fueled up, we got back onto Highway 197 and continued south. The road is surrounded by rolling hills covered in green wheat and tan native grasses, with hardly a tree to be seen. The topography and open skies makes for a surprisingly dramatic view, and later on Brutus told me he was blown away by how scenic it was. We eventually descended down into Tygh Valley before climbing back up the hill, and after a few more miles, met the junction with Highway 216. We turned west and began the fourth and final leg of our route. The road is long and straight for several miles before we passed through the hamlet of Pine Grove and entered the forested eastern slope of the Cascades.

Soon we were climbing the last slope up to Government Camp and after passing some slow RVs, we were heading down the western side toward Sandy. Fortunately traffic was very light and we practically had the road to ourselves. I pulled over in Rhododendron and discussed with Brutus the remaining route, and after agreeing to stop in Sandy for a quick fuel fill-up, we continued on.

Our ride into Sandy was uneventful and once our tanks were filled up, we said our goodbyes and rode on our separate ways. By the end of the day Brutus had racked up 275 miles, which was by far his longest ride to date. He showed excellent form and his bike ran like a champ. Later on he told me that he experience both great fear and delight during the day. The excitement of the ride, the wonder of the scenery, and the wonderful tired feeling you have after surviving a long day's ride.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Touring Tips: How to Ride Long Distance Like a Pro

I ride an average of 9,000 miles per year, more than half of which is during long-distance trips. Those miles have occurred without a single get-off and took place during all types of weather and road conditions. During that time and over those miles I've learned a few things, some of which are included below. Most of these tips pertain to long-distance touring rather than short single-day trips or commuting.

1. Take classes and practice specific skills. Take the Basic Rider's Course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to get your endorsement, then after 5-10,000 miles, take a more advanced course. I suggest Lee Park's Total Control.

2. Don't buy cheap gear. Quality is a higher priority than price. Quality gear is usually more comfortable, making the ride more enjoyable.

3. When buying gear, get pants and a jacket that is waterproof via the outer layer. Gear that uses a removable waterproof inner liner is a waste of time and money.

4. Rub Pledge furniture polish on the outside of your face shield to make rain bead up and run off. Rub shaving cream on the inside of your face shield to prevent fogging.

5. Keep some kind of tool kit on your bike. My suggestion for its contents are: flat repair kit, DC air compressor, electrical tape, adjustable wrench, allen wrenches, multi-tool, small can of WD40, rubber gloves, paper shop rags, and one large black plastic bag.

6. Keep a bottle of water and a power bar in your tank bag. It's also a good idea to keep a half-roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag.

7. Wear earplugs.

8. Look down at your side stand when you put it down. Be sure of the surface before resting your bike's weight on it. Crush a pop can and put that under the side stand foot to give it more stability on loose surfaces like gravel or sand.

9. Leave cotton clothes at home. Use merino wool socks, even in the summer, and wear synthetic wicking underwear and t-shirts as your base layer, especially during warmer rides. In colder weather, use polar fleece as an insulating layer under your jacket and pants; bonus points if your polar fleece is the wind blocker variety.

10. When it's hot, wear a vented or mesh jacket and get your t-shirt wet underneath. You'll actually get a better evaporative cooling effect this way than riding without the jacket at all (warm air compresses against your chest and is actually warmer than the ambient air temperature).

11. This is a tip about riding in general rather than specific to long-distance touring: look ahead, don't look at the road right in front of your bike. Your cornering will be a lot smoother and more efficient, and you'll even be able to take the same corner faster than you would otherwise.

These are some rules I live by:

Riding is optional. Never ride when it isn't safe to do so, either because of weather conditions, the mechanical condition of your bike, your physical health or mental state (don't ride stressed or distracted, etc.)

Never drink and ride. Ever. No exceptions.

Your ability + current conditions = riding safety margin. Never exceed this.

Take care of your bike. Pay attention to maintenance items like fluid levels, tire wear and pressure, chain cleanliness, etc.

Ride respectfully. Be courteous to other riders regardless of their brand of bike. Be respectful of the communities you ride through. Be a positive reflection of motorcyclists and never leave a negative impression of riders upon those you meet.

Some people consider All The Gear, All The Time (ATGATT) to be a flexible matter of personal choice. I don't. I consider it a basic rule that should never be broken. I value my health and safety too much to violate the rule or even bend it, regardless of conditions.

Always wear a helmet, even if one is not required by law. Keeping your brain contained inside your skull is more important than keeping the wind on your face.

Never buy a used helmet. If you drop your helmet, replace it. They suffer internal damage that is not visible or detectable and you need it to be factory-fresh in case of an accident.

Looking good is nice, but never sacrifice safety for the sake of fashion.

If another rider needs assistance, do what you can to help. You may need help someday and good karma is a handy thing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Never underestimate the V-Strom

It was a beautiful Spring weekend and I rode 330 miles (210 Saturday, 120 Sunday) to take advantage of the weather. Saturday was a convoluted route up the Clackamas River to Ripplebrook, down to Stayton for lunch, over to Silver Falls State Park, then back home to Sandy.

Sunday was up the Clackamas yet again, this time past Ripplebrook up NF46 to where I got stopped by snow on the road several miles past Austin Hot Springs (at the junction with 4660 if you care).

There were a lot of bikes out and a fair share of slow cars. Saturday I saw a funeral procession going by in the other direction, heading from Colton to Estacada, for a young fireman that died.

One thing I realized over the weekend is that the Suzuki V-Strom is a truly versatile and capable bike. I've harped on this topic before but it's true. The Strom doesn't excel at any one thing -- it's not as off-road capable as a KTM Aventure nor as fast as a Yamaha R1 -- but it can perform the same kind of function that both bikes provide. It's excellence is its versatility.

I am strongly considering getting a 600 cc in-line four sport bike, not because I feel the need to go faster in a straight line or around corners -- I already carve up the twisties fast enough on my V-Strom, thank you very much. A 600 sport bike provides a much more immediate experience with the road. It's more intense.

But in the meantime, if you need a one-bike-does-it-all solution, the V-Strom is an outstanding choice. There are some other bikes that probably equal the Suzuki in capability and versatility, such as the Ducati Multistrada and the new Triumph 1200 Adventure, but they can't do it for the low purchase and maintenance cost of the Suzuki.

When it comes to getting your bang for the buck in a single motorcycle, never underestimate the Suzuki V-Strom.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A snowy ride

I wanted to test my new Firstgear Kathmandu overpants in bad weather and that's exactly what happened over the weekend. Cutting to the chase, the pants performed admirably but that's not the interesting part of the story.

Keep in mind, it's the middle of March and Spring officially starts tomorrow. March in western Oregon can be mild and meek and pleasant, and it can also be hellish and fickle and tumultuous. So far, it's definitely been the latter.

It was sprinkling lightly when I left the house but I had honest-to-goodness rain within a few miles. My goal was to ride up the Clackamas River highway to the small community of Three Lynx, turn around and then come back home, hopefully through as much rain as possible. I put Pledge furniture polish ("Lemon, mmm!") on the outside of my helmet's face shield and shaving cream on the inside, made sure the zippers were all closed on my pants and jacket, donned my Aerostich tripple-digit overgloves, and hit the road. All of my gear worked great, although my hands eventually got cold (which is nothing new).

The highest elevation my route traversed was 1,210 feet, just east of Estacada as the highway passed above North Fork Reservoir. I saw snow flakes in the air but nothing was sticking on the ground. It rained off and on, heavy at times, all the way to Three Lynx where I turned around and headed back. This pattern of weather continued, with rain falling at least 80% of the time.

When I got back to Eagle Creek the rain turned to big, fat snowflakes and it started to stick on my fairing, arms, legs, and helmet. I used the squeegie on my tripple-digit glove covers to wipe the building snow from my face shield. The snow wasn't sticking on the road surface but it was sticking on the ground next to it. By the time I got home a few minutes later, I had to wipe the snow from my face shield every 5-8 seconds and visibility was reduced from the volume of snow flakes in the air. Snow had built up on my bike's fairing and completely obscured the view through it. I had snow over my boots, knees, and covering my arms and shoulders. There was also 1/4" of snow built up on my helmet (only the face shield was free of snow buildup).

Within 20 minutes, the sun was shining and the 1/2" of snow on my front yard was melted and gone as if it never happened.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March ride with Firstgear Kathmandu overpants

We had a rare, almost Spring-like sunny day over the weekend so I took advantage of the nice weather and gave my new Firstgear Kathmandu overpants a 130-mile test.

The first pair I ordered from were size 32, and based on reviews, they were supposed to be true to size. They were. However, they were a little snug in my belly, which wasn't the pants' fault, so I sent them back and exchanged them for size 34s. They fit perfectly.

The Firstgear Kathmandu pants are meant for adventure-touring and have numerous features that are suited for that type of riding. They have a waterproof ripstop outer shell, which is far more convenient than pants using a removable waterproof liner. I don't want to have to stop and do a hopping two-step trying to get a liner inserted inside my riding pants every time a rain shower passes overhead (which happens almost every day that I ride). I want gear that is waterproof on the outside.

They come with a removable insulated liner that is very effective, although riding in temperatures below 40 degrees would require the use of street pants. Anything below 30 degrees probably requires thermal underwear under that. This is standard, however, and something I'm used to.

The cuffs have a snap and elastic enclosure that fits around my boots. These are not meant to be truly waterproof but instead to prevent or delay the invasion of water into the top of my boots during heavy wet weather riding or during stream crossings. It takes slightly longer to put the pants on because of this but the added protection is a nice feature.

The knees and hips use D30 armor, which is lighter, thinner and more flexible than standard rigid armor found in most riding garments. This reduces the overall weight of the pants and the armor is barely noticeable when I ride. The D30 armor is supposed to become instantly rigid during an impact event and is the latest technology.

The Ride

After getting suited up, I left the house mid-morning and headed through Estacada and Molalla before hitting the highway south toward Silverton and Stayton. What was bright, warm sunshine at home turned into overcast and foggy cold weather once I left Molalla. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in a short distance and soon I was wishing I had another layer underneath my pants and jacket. By the time I got to Stayton and stopped at the Dairy Queen for a quick lunch I was eager to get inside and warm up.

After chowing down a chicken sandwich, I suited back up and headed north toward home through the chilly fog. The sun came out and the temperatures rose once I got to Molalla. A few twists and turns and another 40 minutes of riding brought me back home.

The Kathmandu pants proved to be the most comfortable riding pants I've ever worn (they are the first pair of Firstgear pants I've owned, my previous two pants were both Fieldsheer) and my cold ride was my fault for not wearing enough layers. I think if I had left in the insulated liner they would have been comfortable in both temperature extremes. I look forward to wearing them in rain as well as in warmer temperatures.

Update 3/7/2012: I rode to work this morning wearing the Kathmandu's with the insulated liner installed. It was 25 degrees with clear skies. The pants worked flawlessly and I had no hint of cold nor were they too hot.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting the gunk out

One of the downsides of riding a dual-sport bike is grease and dust make a mess of the working parts. During a routine oil change, I decided to pull the plastic housing away from the clutch linkage and front sprocket. An hour later I had scraped away the semi-solid layers of gunk. It was a coagulation of road dust and chain lubricant.

Anytime I ride on a gravel road or ride in the rain, I clean and lube my chain. But the dust is especially nasty as it gets everywhere and it eventually needs to be removed. Adventure touring is a lot of fun but while I was cleaning that greasy crap from my bike I had a few moments where I contemplated keeping my V-Strom on paved roads only. Then I realized how much fun I'd be missing.

After the maintenance work, I went on an hour-long ride up Marmot and Barlow Trail Roads to work it all in and see how the bike was running. It's just shy of 45,000 miles and is still running strong.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Silverton and Ripplebrook

I took the day off Friday. Although we had a stiff east wind, the sun was shining and it was relatively warm for this time of year. I spent the middle part of the day riding 160 miles, first south through Molalla to Silverton, where I had lunch (waffle and bacon and mocha) at the Silver Creek Cafe, then backtracked to Estacada where I headed east up the Clackamas River highway to Ripplebrook Ranger Station. I stopped for a few minutes to let my hands warm up before heading back down the river to home.

There were a few bikes out and a few slow cagers, but overall it was a fantastic ride. I arrived back home tired but with a big grin on my face.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Zoom, zoom!

Lately I've only had time for short rides on weekends, and when weather and errands allowed, the occasional commute to work. As a result, when I ride, I want to make it count.

I'm fortunate that I live next to some tasty roads that remain snow-free 99% of the year. They tend to be through rural or semi-rural areas and are a diverse blend of curve types and elevation changes. This makes them excellent rides to keep my skills sharp during the off-season.

The downside to these short but challenging rides is the lack of a proper warm-up period. It's a good idea to maintain a moderate pace for the first half-hour of riding and to pay attention to your presence in The Zone. I'm a big believer in this kind of self-awareness. If I'm in the zone, I'm more likely to challenge myself. When I'm not, however, I back off and play it safe. Having curvy and diverse roads so close to home requires that I be somewhat engaged before I even set off. This means I don't ride if I'm already fatigued from other activities -- I ride before chores, not after.

I also give my tires a chance to scrub in (warm up) before attempting any significant lean-angles when cornering. I'm not hitting 60% lean-angles like Ben Spies or Casey Stoner, but my V-Strom will definitely lean over enough to scrape pegs despite how high they are above the pavement.

All of these factors go into the skill-building effort. Practice doesn't just involve cornering technique, it includes muscle memory, evaluation of riding conditions due to road surface, visibility, and weather, and perhaps above all constantly being aware of oneself and the state of my ability at the time -- my ability to ride well varies from day to day, road to road, hour to hour, and I must constantly weigh that against my desire to go zoom, zoom, zoom.