Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fancy Bike in my Future?

Saturday I went to Athens, GA for Ducati Demo Day with the intention of riding several new Ducatis to see what all the fuss and brand loyalty is about.  I have always thought Ducatis were cool but have some trouble reconciling the pricing and maintenance requirements with my fundamentally frugal nature.

Anyway, when I got the Dealership I found that most of the bikes were booked trough most of the day.  I also found some nice folks working there and a more than pleasant crowd of like minded folks hanging out to ride fancy bikes.

I signed up to ride the HyperMotard 796 which has always appealed to me but has also always seemed incredibly impractical.  I have always been wrong.  It took me a few minutes to get used to the really powerful brakes and adjust myself to being back on a tall bike that likes to be ridden dirtbike style, but adjust I did and I really enjoyed the 30 minute ride.  There were no super twisties or really fast sections but there was plenty enough easy going to get a feel for the bike.  As I described it to my buddy Lloyd later - it's like riding an 80hp DR650 with Great Brakes and Firm Suspension.  In other words the bike was a hoot even though I complied with the no-wheelies or stoppies rule.

Wheelies and stoppies seemed just a flicker of a decision away and the bike just felt alive under me.  Tons of grunt and short shifting works awesome.  I have tasted the Kool Aid and the Kool Aid is sweet and addictive.

The MultiStrada - besides being completely out of my price range for any bike was booked up so I was spared the pain of riding a bike I am likely to love but unwilling to buy. Still, I really want a bike capable of two-up cruises and 500 mile solo days and the Hypermotard doesn't quite fit the bill.  

Saturday evening and and night found me stuck on a conference call for work and revisiting the KTM SMT which I also like quite a lot.  THEN I got an email - a link to the HyperStrada.  Hmm.  Ducati goodness, 110hp, ABS and DTC.  Let the rationalizing begin.  I figure bikes won't be available till Spring so I have a few months to convince myself that I can be a Ducatista if I want to...

Stay tuned and thanks for reading - Mike

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A long time

So it's been a long time since my last post.  The mighty DR is gone - stolen after 46,000 plus miles of faithful service - replaced by an '01 SV650.

I miss the DR of course - how could I not - but I have wanted an SV650 since before Suzuki started making it.  Now that I have one, I must say that I was right about it being a great format - middle weight V-Twin in a good chassis with good ergos.  Mine is the naked version which fits my style and sensibility.

Hopefully I can make some nice track day and trip updates soon.

Ride safe - Mike

Monday, June 1, 2009

Kenda K657s on my DR650

I was looking for a suitable street tire for a trackday on the DR.  I found the Cheng Shin Barracudas and the Kenda K657s.  I initially ordered the Cheng Shins, but they were not available, so I ordered a set of the k657s.  I was not expecting much, just something better than knobbies for the roadrace track, but I was very impressed with these tires.  Even at touch-down-my-toes lean angles they stuck like glue.  The front looked the part of a race tire with rubber balled up and sticky enough to pick up pebbles and such.

They worked well at 30psi and better at 25psi providing good feedback when pushing hard.  It was not just me that was impressed either - my buddy with a shelf full of WERA trophies rode the bike and was amazed at well the tires worked at the limit of traction.

I'll also say the bike handled great.  My suspension is stock and there was no pogo action, weird feeling surprises, or bad behavior of any kind.  There was brake dive, it never bothered me and never upset the handling of the bike.  At top speed the bike was still quite stable and turned easily.

Even I was able to match or exceed the corner speeds of the sporty bikes.

Anyway, for about $125.00 and some effort changing the tires you can get a pretty good super moto experience.

Thanks for Reading - Mike         Photo by Rob Cheng

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Finally got my fat ass on the bike.  I know I'm fat because my riding gear was really hard to get into.  So there I am in the parking lot of TWO watching my breath hang in the chill air, and nothing wants to zip, button, or snap into place.

It's my birthday and I'm playing hooky to spend a day on road and off with one of my favorite riding buddies, Lloyd.  We both ride DR650s and from the looks of it Lloyd's riding gear has shrunken as well.

Finally with enough sucking in and stretching of leather and textile gear we are both just about ready to go.  Lloyd's bike starts right up but then dies until he gets the idea to adjust the idle screw - this works just like it was made to control the idle - duh - and off we go.

The Suches area in the middle of a weekday is simply fantastic riding.  There was very little traffic as we headed up Hwy 60 towards Morgan town.  The temp was perfect and the pace was just right for clearing the cobwebs after a long winter of not riding.

It might just be me, but at the beginning of a ride - especially after not riding for awhile - it seems like my level of concentration is not quite where it should be.  One thing that really seems to help me get into the groove is to ride for around 30 minutes, take a break, and then ride another 30-60 minutes.  After a couple cycles like this I am good to go.

We gassed up and headed back toward Suches taking a couple of dirt road detours, stopping to admire the river, and watching a guy pull two nice looking trout in just a few minutes.  The dirt roads were damp with almost all the gravel embedded so there was little dust and lots of grip.

There were some campers along the way and we tried to motor by slowly/quietly but sometimes you come roaring up to a curve and then see the campsites a bit too late for a quiet passage.  Apparently though we were quiet enough because at one point I came into a right hander moving pretty good only to find two oncoming Mountain Bikers - one in my lane.  The guy looked kinda terrified to see the mighty Blue DR, but we managed not to take each other out.

I put on a show for Lloyd on another fast right hander when my sloppy shifting landed me in neutral at a very inopportune time.  It sure is nice to have control of your speed using the throttle, and that lesson is strongly reinforced when you inadvertently forfeit that control.

Arriving back at TWO we reflect on what a great ride it's been and how it might be a good time to call it quits rather than getting greedy for more.  In typical fat American fashion we got greedy and headed back out because I wanted to ride FS58.  It really is a beautiful road with gorgeous, big trees, and a somewhat primeval feel to it.

Along the way we decided to go up a moderately challenging looking spur with rocks, sharp turns, and sheer drop offs.  We kept up a pretty good pace - I have this dream of not lagging so far behind Ryan this year - and I was having a blast.  At the top it opens up into a clearing, but I did not process quite fast enough and tried to ride up some big rock ledges.  I say tried because I cleared the first one and planted the front wheel solidly into the face of the second bringing me to a sudden, unexpected, and unfortunate stop.  I fell to the left hit hard on my left hip.  Lloyd, having apparently sussed out the situation in a more timely manner than me, simply turned left onto the smooth trail and stopped.  By this time I was up limping around and noticing that five degrees in any other direction would have been soooo much smarter.

Lloyd helped me pick up the bike and then we both walked around slowly letting our old hearts return to normal rythym and catching our breath.  According to the map the spur we were on would rejoin FS58 a bit farther on, but a walk that way revealed the ugly truth that we would need more skill to go forward than either of us confidently possess.  So it was back down the way we came.

Only problem with back down the way we came was that the idle screw had fallen out of Lloyd's bike earlier in the day, he would have zero engine braking going back down the mountain, and would also have to keep the revs up to avoid stalling the bike.  I had some water weld in my bag so we decided to make a spacer to replace the idle screw that we would fasten with a tie wrap.

Water weld, JB Kwik, tie wraps, tools that fit everything - these are things you do not want to be without.  Especially when riding offroad on a big vibrating single.

It took longer than the two minutes the instructions said but we ended up with a perfectly sized spacer and the bike was idling along just right.  Going down slowly proved anti-climactic which was fine by me at this point.  

Back on 58 we cruised at a quick pace and had a good ride.  At one point I came up on a car and heard Lloyd honking atthe same time.  I turned around, the car stopped and wee had a good conversation with the guy in the car while I tie wrapped my side panel back onto my bike.   Eventually the guy's wife grew impatient which she indicated by starting the car and threatening silently to drive away.

We got back to TWO after gassing up and were able to load up before dark.  All in all a great day of riding with a good friend and a perfect way to mark the passing of another year on this earth.



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's cold but I miss riding

I am tired of winter.  My poor DR 650 sits forlornly in the garage waiting for my attention, but I just have not been able to ride lately.

The commute is 79 miles each way of interstate, so even if I did ride to work, it would just be to show how tough I am rather than for any enjoyment.  Add in some family obligations that frustratingly coincide with ridable weather and I have to go look for the battery tender - a sad state of affairs indeed.

I am so looking forward to Spring.  A few days of riding with my buddies in the Smokies or the Ozarks will set the world right again.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Arkansas Trip

Even after getting a rash of crap from Ice-T about trailering instead of riding to the event, I arranged to share trailer space and fuel costs with Big Daddy and Rooster. Of course the meet up point was in Vestavia so I still had to pack whatever I was taking onto the DR which means packing light, as I would have to ride from Montgomery. Packing light is no problem for me because my Dad was an avid backpacker and I spent many weekends hauling whatever I needed on my back. I was really confused when people talked about camping with tents as we had always slept in the open with maybe a space blanket lean-to if it was going to rain.

I did need to change my rear tire out before the trip though. In typical fashion I waited until Tuesday evening to start on that little project. My wife asked how long I would be working on the bike and I said "oh about 30 minutes should do it" suffice to say that was a bit optimistic. First I could not get the bead to break so I ended up running to Harbor Freight and dropping $40 on a bead breaker. Unfortunatley that was just the beginning. The Maxxis 6006 tire I liked so much on the bike was a bitch to get off the rim - they are not kidding when the say it has a reinforced bead. I sweated, I groaned, I prayed, and finally after much work I had the old tire off. A bit more work and I had the new tire back on and the wheel on the bike - all in only about 2 hours ;-(

Wednesday morning I could hardly wait to get the girls off to school. I got up early, cooked breakfast, packed my bike and shooed them out the door so I could get going. I ran up the interstate for a while but finally just couldn't take the boredom anymore and got off to run up hwy 31. We were supposed to be loading up at 10am so I stopped to check email and call for directions. I had an email from Joe saying that we were delayed due to missed flight connection. I called him and headed over to his house to hang out for awhile, reading MCN and eating some good bacon.

When it came time to head over to BD's, I on the bike and Rooster in his truck, we jumped on the freeway where I showed the awesome one-lung power of the DR by taking off at full honk which was great fun until the whole bike went squirrelly. I was thinking that I had never had problem with road grooves here before and in fact I don't see any... It got worse and I made a beeline from the left lane to the shoulder where I found the rear tire completely flat. I called Rooster and he flipped around to get me. He practically threw the DR into the back of his truck single handedly and with no ramp, impressing me greatly.

We got to BD's house and he was just loading up so we finished that and hit the road. It was great riding with those two, BD had made up some good CDs filled with astounding array of good and familiar music from the soundtrack of my life and apparently Joe's too - it was a lot like riding with your brothers except the stories were fresh and entertaining. Time in the truck flew by and soon we were going across the Mississippi which was farther out of it's banks than any of us had ever seen especially to the west. After going across flat plains, Crowley's ridge, and some more flat plains we finally crossed the Black River where the Mountains start.

This part of Arkansas is absolutely beautiful if you like elevation changes, lush foliage, and pastoral views. Spring was right in the midst of springing and the dogwoods were in full bloom, scattered throughout the landscape.

We met up with Ilean and Safety for some fish dinner and got our first look at some of the trophy trout. They grow huge brown and rainbow trout up there and it appears that rather than eating them they mount them on the wall. The cabin was great with a big porch overlooking the still swollen river and more than enough room for everybody with four bedrooms and ten beds. I claimed a non-snoring room upstairs and we sat around on the porch talking for awhile before finally turning in, tired from the drive.

We woke up to a dreary looking day and a bit of rain so we hopped into the truck and went to the Norfork Cafe for breakfast. The food was great and cheap, the waitress (daughter of the owners) was friendly and tolerant, and the company was top-notch. I love breakfast food and scarfed mine down quickly, leaving time for a leisurely cup or two of coffee before heading back to the cabin. Where for some reason my tire was still flat. BD graciously offered up some slime which we tried to no avail. I had brought extra tubes and decided that I would stay behind for the morning ride and change my tube out. This is a club though and I ended up with many hands making fairly quick work of the tube change. It rained throughout a good portion of this little project and then promptly stopped raining when we were all ready to go. We went up the road for gas and we did start out in some rain but it didn't last long and we were ready to see how this whole Arkansas thing stacks up to the North Georgia mountains that we all love.

We had a pretty good sized group consisting on Big Daddy, Safety, Ilean, Peppermint Patty, Rooster and Myself. The pace was subdued in the wet but the pavement was in great shape and seemed to provide plenty of traction and as the roads dried up we sped up a bit. One nice benefit of having a DS bike lead the group is that it seems a lot easier to maintain the Pace style of riding and we never got strung out or had to ride carzy fast to catch up. The route was a beautiful mix of scenic and technical with never a nasty surprise. The corners will well marked and very consistent - I don't remember any corners being incorrectly marked which you see in Alabama all the time - and the loop-back-on-myself decresing radius corners were marked as such. The ride was just great!

I had been working on cornering dirt bike style because the knobbies are scary when ridden sport bike style and as the day wore on I was feeling more and more comfortable on the DR. The group was devoid of boneheads and the whole day of riding was just very pleasurable. The weather was cool but not cold with a nice overcast all day that provided perfect, subdued lighting. I'm not sure how many miles we rode Thursday but by the time we got back to the Cabin I was feeling good and glad I had made the trip.

We went to Walmart in trucks for some supplies and stopped at the Black Wolf Bar-B-Que for some early dinner. The food was great and not to be missed if you are in the area. Headed back to the cabin and sometime around there Beaker and Frito arrived. Then we heard the distinctive rumble of a V4 and Ice-T was in the house. Gadget showed up and we had the full group. We all stayed up too late eating Pizza, drinking beer and BSing - exactly what it is all about.

Friday dawned with a completely clear, blue dome of sky. We re-upped at the Norfork Cafe for breakfast and by the time we were ready to roll at 9am the clouds had returned. Most of the group chose to forgo raingear and it never did rain on us through about 280 miles of terrific street riding. Gadget peeled off to explore some dirt and I was torn between wanting to go with him and continuing to work on my street technique. I close the latter and did not regret the decision. There were so few cars on the road and we ate lunch at the Cliff House where the view was stunning even with the haze. By the end of the day's riding I had banished any confusion and fully adopted the dirtbike style of keeping my weight over the bike and pushing the tires into the ground.

I cannot say enough about the group dynamic. Everybody rode well, paid attention, and got along. It always amazes me when somebody in a group ride starts bitching about anything - if you can't have a good time riding a motorcycle, you have real issues. We were apparently issue free because there were no complaints and we all seemed to have a great time.

When we got home I was whipped, my ass hurt, and I could barely close my hands but I felt great. I bailed on the dinner plan to get cleaned up and take a little nap - but I was good to go when everybody got back and they brought me a doggie bag of Catfish and Hush Puppies. The food was really good and we again stayed up late talking and just enjoying each other's company. It was great to talk about the day's ride and not have stories of close calls, crashes, bonehead moves, or performance awards. I did see a Sherriff's Deputy on 341 but I was only going about 75, so he waved at me ;-) We talked instead about great pavement, righteous curves, curteous cagers that let us by, and the lack of litter on the side of the road. Not too bad!

Saturday was clear again and Gadget and I planned to ride dirt and meet up with Big Daddy later in the day for some more dirt. Now my struggles with off-road riding are well documented on the email list and my rib still hurts from my Minooka debacle, so Gadget and I agreed that we would be riding only on the improved gravel roads.

After maybe half an hour of improved gravel roads we turn off onto a marked forest service road that looked to be in good shape. A couple of hundred yards down the steep, rutted, narrowing now a trail we stopped to evaluate our options. We decided it might be easier to continue on than to go back up the way we had come. We were wrong of course but hey that's the adventure. I had one minor fall when I ran into a huge rut trying to avoid getting knocked in the head by a tree sticking out into the trail,but I was able to get up and continue - the bark busters having done their job.

We came to the first water crossing (my fist water crossing) and got through that ok. Then for awhile it was clear an obstacle, do a water crossing, ride for 60 seconds, and repeat. At one break we talked about how this is the fun stuff - well as long as you get out without a broken bike or an injury. Then just as suddenly as the trail had gone bad, we were at an intersection with a paved road.

It was getting close to time to meet BD so we headed for the meeting point where they had no Premium but directed us up the road to Walmart where we both filled up and then decided to snack back at the corner store while waiting for BD. After a morning of hard work that was some tasty snack food!

BD arrived and we headed back onto the dirt roads. The thing about this area is that there are dirt roads everywhere and in some places people are living out there. We took one county road and popped out into a clearing with a 360 view and a big ass cow standing at the side of the road with no fence. She ignored us and we stopped for a short break.

In now typical fashion we continued on until the road turned into a trail and the trail deadended before turning around. There was one big puddle where BD's racing-slick-bald rear tire threw him onto the ground but of course that did not disuade us in any way as we followed another questionable looking, leaf covered, log crossed, trail to a deadend and had to turn around again. This time the log got BD - he cleared it fine but with no traction on the other side he just spun the back tire and fell over. I think he and I share the ernest belief that the old fart looking back at us in the mirror cannot possibly be a true representation of who we are - connective tissue not withstanding.

We felt the need for fuel and I set the Garmin to the task of finding some. They let me lead and I had a ball blasting down the gravel roads as fast as I dared. Every time I looked in my mirrors though they were right behind me. I think I learned more about gravel road riding in that short ride than I have in all the previous rides I have done. My confidence level from that one day of riding has increased dramatically and I would happily ride with Gadget and BD anywhere, under any conditions. I think we rode about 200 miles Saturday and it was all good - especially in retrospect. We went to the Ranger station and saw the Spring feeding the river, mirror lake, wild flowers, and all manner of interesting stuff.

Saturday night we had mexican food and attended the Dulcimer festival where I'm told we stuck out ;-) Charming little town and a good time of fellowship and cultural experience.

Sunday was just the drive home. More good music and stories with two good friends that I am honored to have gotten to know better.

Thanks for reading - Mike

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stupid bike tricks

So I got the Garmin talking to me again by unplugging the Chatterbox charger - I guess it was generating too much electrical noise which kinda bugs me since they make such a big deal about it being filtered.

Anyway, I made a route to Minooka from Montgomery and set out around noon today. The route turned out to be about 1/3 dirt roads - lots of those in Autauga and Chilton Counties. The DR is made for this type of riding - farms roads, fire roads, broken pavement, even twisties are fun on this bike and it just gobbles that stuff up.

I got to Minooka and paid my $15. There was no sign of Ryan and Stan so I headed out onto the Red Trail which basically goes around the perimeter. I was moving slow but getting through it all and remembering to gas it when in doubt. Part way through a guy on a four wheeler stops me and asks if I lost my wallet - I hadn't and he says that they have a wallet for Stan. I told him that was great 'cause I was looking for those guys - now I knew they were in the park at least. Then the guy tells me that the b# trails would have cut the pretty dang hard uphill switchbacks I had just come through...

I caught up with Stan at the gate and then we found Ryan. We've been on the trail for a few minutes and we're coming up on the tough uphill switchbacks - I've been *trying* to at least come close to matching Ryan's pace when I lose the front and the bike goes down kinda hard. I figured it was just a matter of picking it up and continuing on but after Stan and I pick it up we discover that the clutch lever is broken at the perch. My bike still had all the interlocks so we fool with it to get started and I have a ways to go to get out of the woods. Well, I bale on the hard uphill going down an unmarked little piece of single track where I promptly stall the bike. I walk the bike down the hill but when I get to the uphill portion I am too weak and the bike is too big so I fool with it to get started again - then I stall again (this is getting old quick.)

I look up behind me on the trail proper just in time to see a DRZ topple over followed by its rider who rolls a bit but is surprising quick to get back up and pick the bike up - it's Stan. I watch him go for it up the hard hill and a short time later he comes down the other side and stops to help me get going.

Having had more than plenty of the stalling thing I just go and I decide to take the easier turnoff at every choice. This seems like a good idea except that the b# trails just go back and forth from one part of the Red to another. Gas it or die takes on a new meaning when riding a heavy bike with no clutch in the woods. I ride maybe half an hour with no clutch and no stalls before coming to a 90 degree in each direction choice - my momentary confusion is just enough for me to stall the bike straight up hill. I put my feet down and there is nothing under them - crap! Down we go, wheels on the uphill side of course. So now I'm trying to drag the bike down the hill a bit where I might be able to get it picked up when Ryan comes blasting up to me. A bit of relative youth and strength added to my feeble efforts and we have the bike right side up in no time - then I slipped and dropped the bike on my leg. It didn't hurt but I would have been in trouble if I were by myself.

After finally getting the bike to some level ground Ryan offers to swap with me and ride the DR out of the woods. By this time my ticker is pumping pretty hard and I quickly say yes before he has time to think about it. A couple of observations here; Ryan has not done a lot of off road riding but he is already very skilled there was one particularly difficult section and I watched as Ryan just nailed the throttle, got up over the tank, and went for it. The DRZ 400e is like a bicycle compared to the DR 650se but they're both tractors and very forgiving engine-wise.

When we finally get out a few minutes later I am relieved. I decided to head for Clanton in hopes of getting there before Action closes. Ryan pulled the shift lever out to where I could shift gears and I take off. I see them gesturing to ask if I want to add air to the tires but I am rolling now so that will have to wait.

The trip to Clanton was only 12 miles but it was an adventure onto itself. There are probably 8 lights between Minooka and Action I was stopped at all but one. I would roll up and find neutral and then when the light changed I would push off a bit, rev it up, drop into first, and wheelie away - small wheelies. The same girl was beside me for several of these lights and I'm sure she's telling somebody about the stupid guy on a dirt bike trying to show off.

I get to Action right after closing time but they take mercy on me and look for a lever - no luck. No OEM, no aftermarket that will work. I looked around for awhile and decided that I could make the dirt bike perch assembly for Yamaha work so I hand over the ten bucks and set to work in the parking lot. With a bit of work I get it together and finally head home. So right now I am that special sort of tired that comes from a good day riding and a few challenges.

I have decided to use the DR for what the DR is good for and leave the woods alone unless and until I get a woods bike. The DR is too heavy for me to pick up in the places I am most likely to drop it and while the bike is capable it requires a lot of work for a guy of my limited skills to ride in the tight areas.

Thanks for reading - Mike