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

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cool Tilting Three Wheeler

This is a cool prototype that promises to be a cool kit for converting the bike you already have. No information on potential pricing and the mechanism seems to be a bit more involved than the Piaggio MP3 but I would sure like to see more details on this thing.

How much fun would one of these be at a track-day? Think about being able to go deep on the fast guys, out-brake them and then be able to hold more corner speed all while not sweating the low-side or the dreaded high-side. Seems like a good time to me even if it's not really fair.

It appears from the photos on their site that each prototype is getting skinnier. I think they could still go maybe six inches less track while still keeping the benefits. They talk a bit about locking the bike in place at a standstill but I think it's ok to make people put down a stand or hold the bike up.

Thanks for reading - Mike

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First two up ride on the old Nighthawk S

Well the point of getting this bike was so that Selena and I could get back to our two-up rides. Today the weather was nice and we had some time so we took a little ride. I had already planned to take it easy and get used to the bike and carrying a passenger. I haven't got a tag yet which is like begging the PoPo to pull you over so we stayed off the main roads for the most part, just tooling around in the neighborhoods until we hit reserve - at a stop-light with nary a stutter, just died. Fortunately, it also started right back up after switching to reserve.

I gotta tell you, I am happy with this purchase. The power is soft but smooth at low revs and it doesn't threaten to stall. It'll still out accelerate all but the more dedicated cagers even with both of us aboard - does it amaze anybody else the power they put in grocery getters these days?

Some observations; the seat is really low - this is especially apparent for the passenger. On our previous bikes Selena has had to stand on the peg to mount and dismount but on the Nighthawk she can just step on and off without any difficulty. It only took 2.6 gallons right after going on reserve. I think the tank is 4.3 so there's a lot more range than it seems if you're willing to risk a walk - I'm not. The strange feeling after turning in that I referred to in my other post seems to be the falling in related to the 30 deg rake - I'll have a better idea after I get a chance to go fast.

I like it, Selena likes it, and it was dirt cheap. Should be fun and stay around for awhile.

Thanks for reading - Mike

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New to me 1984 NightHawk S

So a friend of mine posted on the FBR list a few weeks ago that he was going to pick up a NightHawk S. Well, he goes through bikes about as quickly as my wife goes though manicures and she's pretty well maintained. Generally he'll get a good deal on a good bike, then spend time and money making it better before reselling it at a still killer price. I called him the same day he posted and asked for first right of refusal when he got ready to sell it. I had been looking for one of these for quite awhile and they still show up regularly on Ebay, but apparently I am not the only person with fond memories of the model because the prices asked and offered are still pretty high. As it happens, he found a late model VFR and decided to keep that and get rid of the Nighthawk even before he picked it up. I told him I wanted it and when the email came this morning that he had it home I immediately responded and we set up a time for me to look at it.

My lovely wife Selena drove me over and hung out for a few minutes while I took a short ride. The ride confirmed in my already made up mind that I wanted the bike and I cut her free rather than torturing her with the bike talk that invariably breaks out when a couple of bike guys get together.

The bike is in good shape, not perfect, but not too bad for a bike that's old enough to drink. The bikini fairing is cracked on one side and a bit 'askew' as well as a couple of other scrapes and bruises, but the paint looks surprisingly good and should clean up nice.

Riding it is a bit different than I remember, but still quite good. This one has been sitting for a while and the gas is old so the riding experience may change after everything gets back into the swing of things. The power delivery is soft compared to say my old Speed Triple and the brakes require quite a strong sqeeze before anything like deceleration starts to happen. As I said in another post about the one I bought new; it steers pretty quickly, though maybe not as quick as a modern sporty standard and then it feels a bit strange but not scary. I think some of the strangeness might be frame flex compared to newer bikes.

The point of getting this bike - besides my own little trip down memory lane, is to have a two-up ride so that Selena can ride with me again. She has been bummed about my trading from the V-Strom to the Bandit 600 and finally to the DR 650. I'm keeping the DR for me and the Nighthawk for us. I think it will be a good choice for the kind of riding we do together.

Thanks for reading - Mike