Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To Farm or to Bike...

Or Both???

I grew up on a little 60 acre farm in Western Illinois. Learning to ride on dirt and gravel and mud, flipped a switch somewhere that could not be turned off.

These early formative years are where people develop communicative skills. My young years roaming the woods and working with farm implements and reading and tending plants prepared me for a life of communicative silence. Talking to a tractor does nothing. Arguing with a pig is simply futile. Explaining the meaning of the blue sky to a Yamaha is meaningless.

Motorcyclists and farmers share this communications mode. A simple shifting of weight or twist of the wrist can communicate far more that words can. This mode of communication has for the most part been lost by the human race. Whether by hubris or ego or societal pressure or apathy or the desire to define everything in a generally acceptable format, this subtle yet powerful communications mode is not only consciously ignored, but in some cases, shunned.

Maybe this is why I revel in solitude. I communicate well on my terms. Maybe I will farm and bike.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Big 42!

For one reason or another, this post was somewhat difficult to start. So, why not start with the number 42. According to Douglas Adams, in his iconoclastic, and throughly humorous novel, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

Well, this year, I celebrated my forty second birthday. Now, with most people, this is just a sign that one is into 'middle age.' Strangely enough, this means something else to me. Specifically because of the day I turned 42. You see, I turned 42 on April 2. 4/2. 42 on 4/2. Interesting, eh? This only happens to people born on April 2nd, of a year ending in 66. So, one day every 100 years.

What does that have to do with motorcycles, or just about anything? Nothing really, just a way to start this post.

Here is a story about attaining spiritual enlightenment. This is likely paraphrased and bastardized, but the spirit and root of the story remains...

A young student of Zen asks his master, "Master, if I study two hours every day, how long will it take before I attain enlightenment?"

"Four years," he replies.

"But Master, what if I study four hours every day?"

"Eight years," replies the master.

The student is now becoming slightly agitated. "Master, what if I study hard every day for ten hours? What then?"

The master smiles. "Then you will likely never reach enlightenment."
That story explains to me, why "searching for myself" is a worthless pursuit. The more energy put into such an effort will merely move my goal farther away. I did not go to the Laughlin River Run to search for something. I went to experience something new. And I did. And I didn't like it. As comfortable as I am on my bike, riding a lonesome road, is just how uncomfortable I was at the bike rally.

If I would have simply bypassed the rally and continued to ride through the Colorado River valley, into the farming area, in one respect, I would have been happier. But I didn't. I stopped. But I am happy for having the experience, even if it was not a pleasurable one. I suppose, a persons' happiness is as beauty; it is in the eye of the beholder.

That brings me to alfalfa. The plant, not the character in the old black and white serial, "Little Rascals." Alfalfa, for those who don't know, is a forage crop. In layman's terms, it is hay. Cows and horses and other animals eat it.

You never see alfalfa growing in the desert or a forest. It simply cannot survive unaided in these environments. The farms I rode by on my motorcycle this weekend were indeed a respite for my soul, but the green alfalfa fields were aided; irrigated with water from the Colorado River. Without that aid the plants simply could not survive.

Perhaps it is the same with people. Some are taken or willingly remove themselves from an environment they thrive in, and end up in a place that they cannot thrive. They need irrigation to survive. Is that living or merely life support? The alfalfa is irrigated and grown to the benefit of the farmer. Perhaps it is the same with people.

Searching for ones' self in a life support environment is as counter to attaining the goal, as the proverbial student mentioned above, studying harder and harder. One should not search for themselves, one should search for an environment wherein they thrive. Then their true selves will become apparent.

Ride safe-

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Another 200+ Mile Day!

Henderson, Nevada to Needles, California and back again. That, plus a little riding around totaled nearly 230 miles. The Laughlin River Run and Bike Rally was too tempting to pass up. It was... interesting.

BUT... before the commentary, the pictures.
One of the many motorcycle parking lots.
And another one.
My little Rebel with Nevada's very own SolarOne, a huge solar electricity generating plant, in the distance.

The rally was interesting and the ride challenging. It's not so much that I learned an aspect of motorcycling that I enjoy, as is was the opposite. There were tens of thousands of motorcycle riders there. As a new experience, it was enjoyable. Will I do it again? No. I would much rather ride alone. Perhaps that holds a different meaning.

More tomorrow when I am more awake.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Motoboss Airspeed Mesh Jacket - Review

So it is getting to be summer time here in Las Vegas. Temperatures in the lower eighties may sound nice, but that sun has a tendency to cook anything in black leather. So, I set out to look for a nice mesh jacket.

My requirements:
-- Must be lightweight.
-- Must have good air circulation.
-- Must be high visibility.
-- Must have good armor and/or padding on the shoulders, elbows and back.
-- Must cost no more than $110 USD.
-- Must have a removable liner.

My normal motorcycle dealership, Ride Now, had a minimal selection. They carried a few Fieldsheer jackets that seemed to fit. I settled on an almost completely silver and white jacket. The only problem I could tell was that the back armor poked my shoulder blades, making by backpack unusable. They set it aside for me anyway.

I then went to Cycle Gear and tried a few. They had blue & black, and red & black (see above picture) styles of the MotoBoss Airspeed. Their large size fit wonderfully. No poking, snug fit around the waist, and comfortable wrist and neck openings.

The jacket has several hidden zippers and pockets. It has the standard two external pockets that are rather small. One hidden internal pocket in the back is more than ample to store the liner and a few other soft things. Hard things poke my back. There is another, smaller hidden pocket on the inside front. It is big enough for some snack bars or whatever.

There is ample padding and armor on the shoulders, elbows, back and even the forearms. The adjustment straps on the arms seem to be a bit loose, even on the tightest setting, but it is acceptable.

There is also a zipper on the inside back to attach a pair of matching riding pants. I didn't have the money, so that will need to be later.

Total cost was right at about $100.

So, this jacket rates a 5 out of 5 noob stars. Its only detractors are the small external pockets, and the somewhat loose fitting adjustment straps on the arms. After a few thousand miles of Vegas heat, I may have a different opinion, but for now, I LOVE it!

(p.s. - congrats to me... this is post #100!!!)

Angry Riding

Have you ever had one of those 'Angry Riding' days? It's not that you are angry or upset. There is just a feeling, a vibe of angriness and upset.

A long lost friend would at times e-mail or IM or call me when she was feeling vibes. She swore by them. Admittedly, I rarely felt more of a tickle, but there was something. Today it was obvious.

As I rode across Las Vegas, from East to West, it was almost palpable and quite unsettling. It started as a light ahead of me turned yellow. I didn't have enough power to accelerate and get through, so I braked. Unfortunately it was new asphalt and the small spot of oil was undetectable until I was right on it. Rear tire lost traction and we fishtailed to a less than perfect stop.

At the next stop light, an idiot cager on a cell phone decided to turn right in front of me. Brakes held and I swerved out of the way. Fantasies of a one-fingered salute swam in my mind.

Turning onto Sunset by McCarran Airport is where it really struck me. The anger nearly overwhelmed my senses. Wind and noise and heavy traffic and road and sun and this huge void of anger was an assault on my senses. Thoughts of fire and brimstone went through my mind, smelling the burnt rubber from landing aircraft

I ride down Sunset to my destination, nearly being run over twice. I even used my little horn a couple of times. Speeding cagers surrounded my little bike, all speeding more that ten MPH over the posted limit.

Coming back I choose a different route. It is no better. There is road construction and the typically three lane street narrowed down to one lane in spots. Cagers were jockying for position, one coming within a few feet of my rear tire. "Come on!!! Can't you see me?!?!? I'm wearing bright red and silver reflective mesh for gawd sakes!!!"

Typically arriving at home is a little melancholy. Not today. I was quite pleased to turn on the computer, put my helmet down, light a smoke, make some coffee, and do a little reading.

Angry riding days just aren't any fun.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Suds, Porn & Dirty Motorcycles

So, there I am, writing an article about washing motorcycles and I need an image or two. My camera is not behaving well, so I thought I would do a little surfing to find some place-holder pictures.

Oh My!

I went to Google Images and looked up 'Suds'. Nope. Out of four pages, nearly 50% of the pics were boob-shots. Not what I wanted.

OK, 'suds + motorcycles'. Better, but still about 25%. Nothing I am interested in.

Fine. So I try 'mud + motorcycles'. Still, 25% or so are bikini shots; many with fewer clothes than that. Sex in the mud? I will pass, thank you.

So the article just has blank spots where the pictures go until I get the camera fixed. But, this makes me wonder... Is porn that prevalent? If so, then I see where the US male population's spare time goes. I'm not blaming porn for the fact that the US is no longer the manufacturing powerhouse it used to be. But, maybe it is a symptom of a larger problem.

Theres nothing wrong with a dirty movie or two, but in excess, anything is bad. Porn, drinking, smoking, poor diet, speeding on a motorcycle, swallowing goldfish... When it becomes an obsession, that's where the problems come in.

Let's see, riding fast on my little Ninja, down I95 or watching Steel Magnolias... Well, that's a fairly easy choice, but do you speed down I95 rather than paying the bills or going to classes or work? Now that's a problem.

Moderation in all things, be it motorcycling, porn, drink, smoke, eats... you name it. That will help keep us all safe and balanced.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Systems & Zen - Part II

According to Wikipedia, Zen is "... notable for its emphasis on mindful acceptance of the present moment, spontaneous action, and letting go of self-conscious and judgmental thinking." This is the essence of the relationship between Zen and motorcycles.

"...mindful acceptance of the present moment, spontaneous action..." This is its core. Whether riding down a dirt trail or five lane asphalt super highway, safety and proficient motorcycling relies on that core.

"...the present moment..." means everything. It means the weather, the road, the smells, the other riders and drivers... the everything. That is the razor's edge. That is the moment that must be accepted as a whole, without subdivision, without judgment.

According to Robert Persig, in his seminal work, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, "A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason..." Its individual pieces work together to express several concepts into one complex machine. The levers and pistons and cables and pads all working together as one.

To be a safe motorcycle rider, and understand the true beauty and joy of piloting a five hundred pound machine down the road, one must accept these things. There is no good. There is no bad. There is only the now; the razor's edge. There is no time for anything else.

There are no brakes, no pistons, no clutch, no tires. The bike and rider must act as one. Any judgment, classification or separation of any part of this assembly reduces the effectiveness of the system, the beauty of the system. Focusing on one riding skill may adversely affect the very thing being focused on. A rider who wishes to improve their braking skill should not concentrate on that one thing to the exclusion of all others. Good braking is not simply using the right foot and right hand with the proper pressure. It is so much more. It is throttle control and balance and clutching and shifting. It is everything.

The human brain is not good at multitasking. At any moment while riding, there are a huge number of events. This is the everything that must be processed in the brain. It is more than daunting; it is overwhelming. Processing each point of data with any reasonable facsimile of efficiency simply cannot be performed.

Processing brake and clutch pressure, throttle, wind, balance, lean, surface condition, the everything can only be effectively done as a whole, not as its parts. Riding down a twisting road is not throttle and brake and clutch and lean and shift. It is simply riding. Perhaps life should be treated more like this.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Systems & Zen

It was all I could do to maintain my stoic composure. I wanted to correct her so badly, but doing so is not simple nor without its dangers. Today my ex-wife saw my new copy of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

"Ken, I am so proud of you! You are such a good rider and read all these books on safe riding and now you are reading about motorcycle maintenance so you can take care of your bike better and be more safe so that you can enjoy more and safer riding..." And, yes. It does go on. I am pleased anytime she can speak a single sentence within the span of sixty seconds.

Part of my mind wanted to tell her what it is really about. The more reasonable side of my consciousness won over. My mouth remained shut as her wandering monologue sidled into how some poor young Mormons happened to stop by and how she 'made their head spin.' Yes, I know that feeling all too well. I do feel for the young fellows. They were simply out doing what they felt they should, and they happened to run into her.

As for ZMM, initially I thought it was going to be an introspective travelogue. I missed its true nature completely until the narrator explains who "Phaedrus" was. That took me by surprise.

Alas, I was going to write a little about multitasking, and proficient riding and the beauty and functionality of viewing a motorcycle as a system rather than thousands of discrete parts. But, it is nearly 1:30 AM and the beer is kicking in. Tomorrow, the real Systems & Zen post. Promise.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Literature & Motorcycling

For one reason or another, literature and motorcycling seem to go hand-in-hand. Perhaps it is the introspective nature of the lifestyle. Maybe it's the rebellious nature of both motorcycling and adventurous literate works. Perhaps it is the mental mindset. Not that there is a lot of motorcycle literature, but what there is, is fairly high quality. Quality over quantity. Form and content over the medium. This should be the core of any true motorcyclist.

My new found avarice for reading has been rewarding in and of itself. Rereading Ayn Rand's "Anthem" and "the Fountainhead," new books like Neil Peart's "Ghost Rider" and Lois Pyle's "Lois on the Loose." Older classics like Saul Bellow's "Seize the Day," W. Somerset Maugham's "The Razor's Edge" and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "100 Years of Solitude."

I just finished reading Lois Pyle's "Lois on the Loose." She certainly deserves a A+ for chutzpah. Riding from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina on a Yamaha XT225 Serow was nothing less than one hell of a ride. She suffered breakdowns, personal conflicts with a fellow riding partner and quite a few other issues. Unfortunately, as fantastic as that ride must have been, she excelled in presenting her irritations and tribulations rather than the adventure of the journey.

I do expect some introspection in my motorcycle literature, and her book did yield some, however shielded by her writing style. There is some direct introspection, and even some philosophical discussion at the end.

In all, I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars. It's not a book I would give away or sell, but not one I would want to re-read right away. It is an entertaining read, and at that level, I do recommend it to anyone wanting such. I am looking forward to reading her new book, "Red Tape and White Knuckles."

Ride safe, all!

Monday, April 14, 2008

God must hate me...

**No, that is not my sentiment, but one I hear a lot. Here is a little biker story for you. Hope you like it.

A biker out on the road is pushing his limits, trying to ride long and hard to his destination. His body jittery from too much coffee, cold and wet from a light evening thunderstorm, continues into unknown darkness. Engine sputtering, he switches to reserve, thinking, 'Damn, there should have been a town out here by now! God must hate me.'

Ten minutes later, he sees a camp fire, tents and a few bikes along the side of the road. He pulls over to ask directions. They are all warm and dry and laughing and drinking and generally having a great time. The guy manning the fire introduces himself.

"Hi buddy! I'm Mike. The woman over there in the red hat is Sharon, my wife. She rides the old CBR440. Kim and Nikki are her sisters, riding those matching DR-Z 400's and mine is the old BMW. Damn you look cold and wet! Why don't you stay for the night, have a drink and some burgers. I've got plenty. Oh," he winks, "Kim just got back from four years in the arctic and Nikki was divorced a few months a months ago," he laughs. "This might be an enjoyable rest stop for you."

"Oh no. I have a few hundred more miles to go. Thanks anyway. But, do you happen to have some spare gas? And, where the hell is Interstate 213?"

"There's some spare gas in my Jerry Can, but I213? No idea. I'm not from here. When we ride, we just ride. Only ask for directions to get back home when we are ready."

The biker gets the Jerry Can and empties it into his tank.

"Thanks a lot for the gas, Mike. Here's ten bucks, I really should be going."

"Keep your money, " Mike laughs. "You just be careful out there, OK. And check into a hotel or something. There's another storm coming, I think. Sure you don't want to ride it out here? Plenty of beer and burgers!"

"Nah, I need to go. Thanks a ton!" And the biker mounts his ride and sets off down the asphalt into the pitch black.

Five miles down the road, without warning, the asphalt becomes graded gravel. Lightning in the distance illuminates the large warning signs. "Caution! Road Construction Ahead!"

'God must hate me...'

Ten more miles down the road and it becomes little more than a pot-hole filled rough single lane gravel road. Lightning is flashing all around as the storm gust blows him from one side of the road to the other.

He passes over several old bridges, as the wind picks up. He comes around a sharp corner to see a large lighted sign, 'Local traffic ONLY!' but he goes on. 'God must hate me...'

Not five miles down the road and it becomes a mixture of mud and gravel. The road construction equipment safely tucked in a large machine shed not fifty yards away. He continues on. 'God must hate me...'

It starts hailing. He takes the next blind curve too fast, bike looses traction, slams against the guard rail and launches him to his death, down a two hundred foot chasm.

He awakes in a blinding light. Surrounded by beautiful green pasture and trails, he is sitting on a fully dressed, immaculate Triumph. He rubs his eyes. 'What in the hell is this place?' he wonders.

At that moment, a brilliant white Harley Hardtail chopper crests a nearby hill. It's rider effortlessly pilots his bike down the hill and stops right in front of the biker.

"No, son. This isn't quite Hell," the old man says, taking off his helmet. He is in all white leathers with a long white pony tail and flowing white beard. He shakes the biker's hand. "Son, I'm Saint Peter. Welcome to heaven!"

"But..." the biker stutters, "I'm dead? I had plans! Things to do! And, now I'm dead?!?!?! God really does hate me!"

St. Peter scowled, "Shush, man! The boss doesn't like that kind of talk! And, it's bullshit! Let's look at your last evening on earth, shall we?"

"Remember that diner where the cute waitress gave you that black coffee and her phone number? HA! That was espresso to keep your butt awake. And that first little thunderstorm? Same thing. Getting lost and running out of gas? Why didn't you just get off the road, pitch your tent and have a drink?" St. Peter shakes his head.

"Remember that road getting worse? We were working our butts off to get that done before you got there. Those signs, and the road, the weather, the bridges, the machine shed... we did it all to save your sorry ass. YOU just had to make the choice to stop."

Then St. Peter lowered his voice and winked. "We even offered you free beer, hamburgers and," he cleared his throat," the company of two beautiful, intelligent, single women. That was Michael's idea."

"But no, you had to go on..." he trails off to a sad whisper. "God doesn't hate you. Look at all those opportunities he offered. You were too blinded to see. That's the same with most down there."

Gentle tears running down St. Peter's face, he puts his helmet on and fires up his bike. "Let's go, son."

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Since I am holed up in the house for yet another sick day, I thought I would do some reading about motorcycles. (Like, I never, ever do that!!!! :-) )

I google motorcycles, and Buell Blasts, and the Yamaha TW-200 and the Triumph Bonneville. Somehow I accidentally searched on Google News and ended up with pages of motorcycle accident reports. Some morbid curiosity overtook me, and I started counting which accidents were the motorcyclists' fault.
  1. Too much speed and loss of control. Rider was in the wrong lane and collided with a truck.
  2. Small truck sideswipes a rider.
  3. Rider looses control and collides with tree.
  4. Rider looses control and collides with stop sign.
  5. Rider without right of way T-Bones a truck (killing three people).
  6. Rider fleeing police (he had a suspended license) looses control and slams into a traffic sign.
  7. Rider was put into the hospital after hitting a stationary street sweeper. He was weaving around cars that were stopped in traffic behind an accident.
  8. Man buys a brand new Harley, takes off into the dealer's parking lot, looses control, smacks into a parked vehicle and dies. No helmet.
So, from those eight incidents, only one was not blatantly the riders fault. Seven times in eight was the rider. Yes, riding is dangerous. The danger is within the riders, not the cagers. It is our responsibilities as riders to drive that danger out. If we do not, we will kill ourselves.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Another Day of Scrubbed Plans

Yes, another day of scrubbed plans. Not called off due to weather or bike problems or any ethereal voice telling me to stay home. It is all due to a lovely little virus. Earlier this week I started to feel some congestion in my sinuses and a little fever. Nothing to keep me from going to work, or forcing me to stay on the couch.

Tuesday night was the worst. Wednesday I even decided to drive, not completely trusting my balance. Thursday was much better. My sinuses were opening up and overall I was feeling much better.

Sitting down last night, I planned out a day-off-work ride up to Pahrump, then Ash Meadows, and back to the house. Throttle hand twitching, I went to bed last night fully expecting to be on the road by seven AM.

The 5:30 AM alarm went off this morning and all I could do was cough and hack and spit out green globs of sickness. I wobbled out to the kitchen, hoping I would regain my balance and ability to breath without coughing more than two or three times every five minutes.

No luck. After a Vitamin C chewable, three cups of green and mint tea, and a little breakfast, the plans are pushed off to this weekend.

Regardless of plans, there are always events that can alter them. Recognizing and accepting these altered plans is a fine ability, so long as alterations do not become the norm.