Things we think of while riding down the road

Archive for October, 2009

Bobber or Cafe’ Racer

I have never been a chopper kind of guy,I didn’t have the look when I was younger and I certainly don’t now..but, yes,I do have a tattoo… that probably wouldn’t let me into the ‘chopper club’ though would it?

In the early ‘70’s a good friend of mine built a a very nicely done chopped Honda 350…yes I did say Honda 350…hey, he did a good job and rode it all over California.

I was much more into the Cafe’ Racer style…I can blame my stepfather for that. Over the years I have built a couple of Cafe’ Racers…or Cafe’ styled bikes. My first was a ‘69 BSA Lightning 650, then next was a ‘72 Kawasaki H2750. Drop the handlebars, get a bum-stop seat, a custom exhaust, maybe a small windscreen..modify the foot controls, better suspension, some grippy tyres and you’ve got a Cafe’ Racer…well, maybe…H2

My good friend Erik of www.ilovecaferacers.com and I have a contest going on, we’re both building Honda 350 Cafe’ Racers…the contest is to see who can get the bike done first and then put it to a vote as to whose is a real Cafe’ Racer. I have feeling he’ll win the contest…but I’m sure I’ll like mine a lot better.

tritonWhile working on my plan for the little 350 I decided to broaden my bike building horizons and I have come up with a great idea..a ‘Cafe’Bobber’. The concepts are the same, strip the bike down to it’s bare essence…lighter, faster and better (?) looking…remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As I searched for inspiration I realized that I was right on…different views to a similar end. A strong engine, a gas tank, seat, throttle and down the road you go. I might want to consider upgrading the brakes..nah, they’re good enough.1954Harley-DavidsonFlathead45

As I look at these pictures, I think my little Honda will become the first SL350 “Cafe Bobber’. This winter project is getting more fun by the day. Now, let’s see where’s my cutting torch???CIMG7856

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The Pit Bike Kulture

I’ve been around motorcycle racing for far too many years than I care to admit sometimes. From desert racing as a teenager to showing my AARP card while signing up for a roadrace. When you love racing, it stays with you for life. CIMG7490

Over the years I have learned that motorcycle racing, no matter what the form, is a community. We all help each other..” I need a clutch lever for a Bultaco Pursang..anybody have one?” …someone shows up in about five minutes with it. Over the PA system comes “rider number 112 needs a clutch pulling tool for a GSX-R750..if you can help he’s behind the garages in a green Dodge truck”…five minutes later, you got a tool. Racers are good people.

The generosity of racers towards one another is a beautiful thing, but I think there is something that binds us together even more closely. No, it’s not the risks of racing, it’s not the kind of bike we ride or the type of racing we do and it’s not sharing tools and parts…it’s our pit bike.

CIMG7366Yes, the lowly pit bike. Never washed except when it’s left outside and it rains…at the track it’s always left laying on it’s side outside the trailer, hasn’t had new tyre’s since the Truman administration, the gas in the tank has been in there since your dad was a kid and it was his pit bike and when somebody asks you what it is, you say..”Uh..I don’t know”.

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield epitomized the ’Pit Bike’…” I don’t get no respect”…but what would we racers do without our pit bikes? How would we go get new tyres mounted at the Dunlop truck? How would we go visit friends almost a half mile away in the desert?…and most importantly…how would we go get lunch???CIMG7190

So today, go out to your barn, garage, shed, under the plastic tarp…pick up your little pit bike and give it some love. Wash it, you might want to even think about checking the oil…we’re going to call Oct 22nd official pitbike appreciation day


Divine intervention?

Feelings… we all have them. No, this is not about getting in touch with my feminine side, or getting my feelings hurt when a woman didn’t like what I made for dinner, it is however about intimacy. The closeness we motorcyclists share with our bikes.

Currently I have a friend riding around the country over roads he has never ridden, weather conditions he has never experienced, towns he has never seen and people he has never met. The one constant is his motorcycle, the bike he has ridden for years and trusts completely. His journey is and will continue to be great.CIMG7745

The other day I was preparing to leave on a short trip up the California coast then over the Sierra’s and home through the desert, my idea of a perfect ride. I loaded up my relatively new to me BMW, donned my riding gear, pushed the button and….pushed the button…and…damn. Change of plans…change of ride.

Sitting in the corner of our barn is my Triumph Daytona, battery tender still attached. Take the blanket off, turn the key, hit the button and…the growl of the three cylinder motor fills the barn. “Baby..we’re goin’ for a ride!!” Change the luggage from the BMW hard bags to the old soft saddlebags..eliminate a few things…”let’s see, do I really need a rain suit?…uh yeah”…it went like that for a few minutes and packing was done. Set tyre pressures, check the oil and chain adjustment…it’s time to go.

Roll the Triumph out of the barn, kiss Heather goodbye, climb on the bike, hit the button, pull in the clutch, click into first gear and head out onto the road. I know this feeling. I have spent nearly 100 thousand miles on this bike, I know this feeling very, very well.

The feeling you have when you know something so well is so unique and so special it is hard to describe but it’s there. The feeling of each corner of your favorite road, the curves of your favorite wife…wait…better be your only wife…and the feeling you get when you ride a motorcycle that you have traveled many, many miles on. CIMG6321

On this trip we rode familiar roads where everything just flowed, the lightest push on the handlebar moved my Daytona just where I wanted it to go, just the right amount of throttle and brake kept everything under control. On new roads my comfort on the bike made the ride easy and enjoyable. On our way home, knowing my motorcycle became more important than I could have imagined.

Highway 395 here in California is actually not a boring ride; mountains, lakes, valleys and deserts…if you have to ride up and down this state, 395 is a good ride. Normally. This time we encountered hurricane force winds that scared the bejeebers out of us. It was a very hard long ride home. For nearly three hundred miles it was a fight…me and my Triumph against the wind. We won.

Once home and completely beat, I started to think how grateful I was that I was riding my Triumph on this trip. Under the worst of conditions I was on the motorcycle I knew best. I know everything that bike will and won’t do. There were times I was truly scared of getting blown off the road, but knowing just how much input to give the bars, throttle and brakes because of the intimate connection I have with this motorcycle, I got home safe and sound…worn out, but home.

Have you ever thought about ‘divine intervention’? or whatever you might call something happening for a reason you can’t explain? Well, the thought came to me during the ride in the wind…I was planning on riding my BMW which we have only spent a couple thousand miles together, but it decided it didn’t want to go on this ride. So, I rode the Triumph instead. I honestly believe that because of my closeness with my Daytona I made it home without incident. If I had been on the BMW the trip may have ended differently.

Final thought for the day…The BMW didn’t want to risk itself being tossed on the ground, so it decided not to go. You know how I know this…it started just fine this morning. Who says motorcycles don’t have feelings?


On being afraid

We have all seen Star Wars more times than we would like to admit…hold up your hands…how many have seen it more than once? more than five times? have a Darth Vader costume ready for Halloween? The first step in recovery is admitting your problem, congratulations. Do remember the scene where Luke Skywalker is telling Yoda he’s not afraid then a very menacing Yoda says “You will be..You will be…” ?

In my over forty years and hundreds of thousands of miles of riding motorcycles, I have ridden in every condition imaginable and survived..inspite of some really stupid decisions. Rain doesn’t bother me,I have a rain suit; snow makes me wish I had warmer gear; nine million degree heat in the desert sends me looking for water…and ventilated riding gear; fog…well, fog makes me nervous…I can’t see all too well and drivers in cars can’t see me at all. I, like all of us, have had plenty of the “OH SH*T,…OH SH#T…OH SH^T…WHEW…saved that one moments, but I have never been afraid riding a motorcycle. Until yesterday.

I was on my home from a quick ride up the coast of California and back down through the desert…pretty normal for my friend Jeff and I. We came from Lake Tahoe over to Highway 395 above Walker, California. A very fun ride…if you have little regard for those signs that tell you how fast you can go…Nice weather, no traffic, great scenery…I think the yellow lines on the road at speed are great scenery, don’t you? A perfect start to a blast home.

A quick gas stop in Bridgeport…$4.09 a gallon for premium!!?? My Triumph and Jeff’s BMW have expensive tastes in petrol…those Europeans. After the gas stop our ride changed. A lot. From Bridgeport you head towards the Virginia Lakes and Conway Summit. The Conway Summit has a beautiful view of Mono Lake and one of the most fun sections of road along Highway 395 you’ll ever ride. Not today.

As we started up the summit the wind picked up. We have all ridden in windy conditions, headwinds wear you out and ruin your gas mileage, tailwinds help gas mileage and crosswinds…well, crosswinds make you ride at a funny angle and wear one side of your tyres out faster than the other. I had never experienced anything like the crosswinds we had that day. Coming down from the summit the gusts got so violent I was pushed across the road no matter how hard I tried to stay in my lane , or even the next lane, on coming traffic was getting way too close for comfort. Trying to navigate a long downhill right hand curve while you are being pushed across the road…not my idea of fun.

I made it to the bottom of the summit still on my side of the road, but the gusts were getting even more violent. At the bottom there is a sign saying “Subject To Strong Crosswinds”, all I could think of to say was “no sh*t”…attached to the sign is a bright orange windsock standing not just straight out but almost pointing upwards as well. I had slowed my speed down to about fifteen miles per hour for fear of losing control of my motorcycle. I was riding on the shoulder of the road trying to stay out of traffic’s way, while still getting blown all around. The gusts would hit so hard it felt like the handlebars were being ripped out of my hands. It got so bad I finally pulled off the road and stopped out of sheer fear.

After checking to see if I needed to change my underwear, telling my motorcycle how much I loved her and doing some serious praying, I continued on…albeit at a much slower pace. Jeff and I met up in the town of Lee Vining. These were hurricane velocity winds, eighty to one hundred miles per hour. We debated on whether to keep going or maybe wait it out, we both wanted to get home and we figured it had to ease up somewhere. We got a couple of breaks along the way but for nearly three hundred miles along the Sierra Mountains and the Mojave Desert we fought crosswinds like we had never experienced before. Even the strongest winds while racing at Willow Springs were mere breezes compared to this.

The last fifty miles home were thankfully wind free, but we were so beat up from the days ride it was hard to hang on to the handlebars. Every muscle in my body hurt, even my fanny hurt from being puckered up for hours. All I wanted to do was get home and sit in the hot tub.

For the first time ever I was actually afraid riding a motorcycle. I spent all the hours telling my trusty Triumph that between the two of us we would get home just fine and praying heavily. Both things worked and we arrived home safe and sound. My motorcycle and my faith in God never left me. Maybe a little riding skill and a whole lotta luck played a small part as well.