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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

i just ride them

so recently i was made aware of a tendency i have to just ride motorcycles. this came about when a good friend bought an identical bike to me and instantly proceeded to instantly start adding stuff to it. he changed some gearing, tweaked the sprocket alignment, ordered a power commander type gadget and generally--in the words of the dual sport world, farkelled his bike. the modifications on my bike include new tires and adjusting the hand controls.

thinking about this on my ride home today made me realize that for a long time i have just ridden motorcycles. my jobs have given me great opportunities to ride hundreds of bikes, some for an hour, some for a year, and i know what makes a good ride and a crappy ride, but more often than not i have just ridden the bike as they were.

having spent some time on racetracks, dirt and pavement, i fully understand what the benefits of proper suspension tuning brings, as well as engine tuning to suit your riding style. but all that tuning and set up takes away riding time. yes, i have set bikes up properly many, many time. yes, they are easier to ride, better controlled and much safer, so no need to tell me what i am missing. but i also think my constant rotation of bikes over the years has been a big part of why i just ride them.

So often i get on a new or different bike and in the first 5 miles i know what the suspension limits are, what the brakes do or don't do, how power is delivered and what the chassis does (to a point) and i just adapt my riding style to the bikes abilities or lack of abilities. i am not sure if that means i am a better rider than people who invest hours in set up before they ride or worse.

what i know is, more often than not, i am just riding for fun or transportation and the limits of the bike are not going to get explored, so i just ride it.  i dont know if i do the bikes justice by not tweaking al kind of things, but i do have a good time riding anyway.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Letting Go of Anger to Let Pain Pass and Remembering Lost Friends

Those of you who have known me for a very long time know that October is, in general a shitty month for me. Of the things I keep personal, October is the biggest part of it. I try to block it out, but the two worst anniversaries of my life are in October. I very rarely talk about them, as its pretty hard to accept, but I also realize I never dealt with one of them, and I think I will today.

See during my formative years in high school and college, I had some great friends. Lots of great friends, but I had two best friends. Scott and Gregg. We did many things together, laughed a lot and generally enjoyed those times more than I knew at the moment. We were those annoying friends who had our own way of communicating, mostly with killer lines from comedy movies and albums that applied to the situation we were in. You may not have understood why we referenced spider monkeys (Richard Pryor) at that moment, but the three of us were laughing to the point of tears when the comment was delivered.

Scott and I moved to California at the end of July 88. That trip is a story unto itself, but suffice to say, loading a 27' UHaul with all of our belongings, my Suzuki Samurai, our two motorcycles and his car on a trailer behind us but the little rental truck slightly over its weight capacity. The move was hard as we both left our families behind, but also our friends--especially Gregg. Thankfully Gregg was a corporate pilot for an international company so we knew he would have some trips to CA as part of the deal. But the three of us never had a chance to hang out again as a drunk driver killed Scott while we were out on a motorcycle ride in early October of 88. The immediate days after that incident were the hardest I have ever experienced in my life. Not only was Scott dead, our friend Dayna, who was riding passenger on his bike was in the hospital fighting for her life. And I was alone in a new state across a big country with no one for support--except my phone calls to Gregg. I remember being alone in my Marina Del Rey apartment, picked because Scott loved boats, and trying to sort out my loss at 4 am. I couldn't. I was to deliver the eulogy at his funeral, but how could I? I had not cried yet.

The stress and arrangements of getting Scott back to Philly, getting a flight back, making arrangements to leave a new job for a while--I didn't know how long I would be back in Philly, it was a lot to take. Thankfully I did get some laughter with Gregg in those private jokes.
I decided to go back to California permanently after the funeral. I visited PA a lot in the beginning, friends weddings, reunions, those things. But It was a lot of work as I was building a new life. Gregg visited quite a bit, we talked about him moving out--he loved the weather and the ability to ride motorcycles all the time.

I had married while in CA, and on one of Gregg's visits we discussed my need to get divorced. It was a long, serious conversation and he was a good person top have it with. He understood my unhappiness and helped me move forward with confidence.

Then, Gregg, who had always dealt with a bit of depression in his life, took his own life in October of '97. I was devastated. My two best friends were dead and we were not even in our 40's yet. Somehow I felt I had failed him as a friend. But I realized how often I called him and asked him to move here with me. How much I checked in on him. And then I got mad, no furious, with him. And until this morning when I sat down to write this, I never let it all out. For 17 years I have faked sadness, because anger was all I felt. Rage when I should have grieved. I was being selfish about my loss and not recognizing my friends pain.

I know a lot more about personal struggles, depression and its effects at 52 than I did at 35 and I understand why Gregg did what he did. But back then I shut him off, and blocked his memory. Now, today I just miss him and wish I could talk with him again and quote stupid movie lines until we couldn't catch our breath from the laughter.

October still sucks for me, I miss my best friends. But I spent all morning recalling stupid things we did together. Remembering how we would steer a conversation so we could weave in a stupid movie line. Thinking about late nights in Philly diners talking about motorcycles, cars, girls and the future, with stupid lines mixed in. Never once thinking that this friendship, the closeness, trust and ability to count on each other wouldn't be there. It seemed eternal, we would always be there, growing up, but making the time to hang out.

Its been 26 years since that asshole took Scott and 17 years of me not forgiving Gregg. Today I think I will just listen to Bill Cosby, Cheech and Chong, Richard Pryor and for the first time in a very long time laugh with my friends.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

26 years later--i still hate drunk drivers

26 years ago this month, a drunk driver killed my best friend. It was 3 in the afternoon, we were riding motorcycles in Malibu, with friends visiting us from Philadelphia on the bikes. 3 in the afternoon. Sunny day. We were not racing, speeding or screwing around, just cruising down Kanan Dume road at 3 in the afternoon when an idiot felt he could drive--drunk off his ass.

The day before the drunk driver thought he was able to drive

He lost control of his pickup truck and spun sideways in a turn, straightening out in our lane, hitting Scott head on, killing him pretty much instantly. Poor Dayna, on the back of his bike went flying and thankfully landed in a tree, and though severely injured, made it through the surgeries and ended up making a full recovery and living a healthy life. Scott, my best friend, died because of a drunk driver. period. No soft way to say it. Some asshat decided he could drive drunk and he killed my best friend.

So, the next time you feel inclined to drive drunk, high or for that matter text and drive, think about this, 26 years ago i watched my best friend bleed to death right in front of me because someone that thought they could drive drunk was wrong.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Notes from a motorcycle commuter

Please feel free to share this with all the car driving people you know.

Lately I commute about 90 miles a day, round trip, on a motorcycle. Five days a week, although sometimes just four as I work from home occasionally. But in that 360-450 miles a week of work flow traffic, I see a lot of people in cars--also motorcycles--doing things they shouldn't while operating a vehicle. And I see road courtesy being thrown out the window

1- texting. You are not fooling anyone by holding it on your lap to text. I see you look down and then see you drift in the lane to whatever side that your hand is on the steering wheel. The other fun texting thing you try is both hands on top of the steering wheel, phone cradled between two, and then texting. Guess what? When you do that, you slow down dramatically. Upwards of 10-15mph slower than the cars around you. Stop texting and driving

2- dealing with your kids while driving. Here is a fun fact: when you turn around in the seat to yell/talk/console your kid(s) you drift in your lane. I know because I have to avoid you. Have a kid issue in the car? Do like my dad did and say, "if I have to pull this car over, you will be sorry" and if you need to deal with the kid for any of the above reasons, pull over please

3- Eating while driving. Yes, some people feel it is a time saver I guess. In my car you are more likely to be thrown out in the street than chow down a cheeseburger, but that is just me. But folks, if you a re going to eat in your car, make it finger food. A bowl of cereal, or whatever it is you have in the bowl, well its simply not safe. Your first panic reaction is going to be not to spill on yourself, then second will be deal with the road situation. I hear beef jerky is a nice snack in the car, not messy and very little distraction. Plus its full of protein, probably good for you.

4- using your cell phone. Um, here in California we have a hands free only law, holding your phoebe two inches from your face using the speaker phone isn't dodging the law, its still in your hand. And, likely you are concentrating even more on that call because of the poor audio than if you held it to your face. Remember when driving was a chance to listen to the radio and not hear from people in the office/friends/wife/husband/kids? How about you play attention to the drive and not the call? I can tell when you are having a fun versus a serious conversation. Fun calls you speed. Serious calls you slow way down. Guess what? They both affect your driving

5- pickups and trucks carrying things. Please, please please add an extra two tie downs to your load. There is not a day that goes by I don't see something on the side of the road that I know flew off a truck or SUV that could have killed me had I been behind the vehicle when it fell off. Oh yeah, car drivers, you cannot hold a mattress, sheet of plywood or anything else down to your roof with your left arm. Tie it down properly please.

6- motorcycle riders and lane splitting. Yup, you guys are not exempt from my wrath. First, its a freeway, not a racetrack. Swooping lane to lane, no turn signal and in traffic that is already moving at 70-plus Mph is, well stupid. Communicate your intention, be cautious to drivers and make your lane change. Be respectable to car drivers, maybe  they will respect us. And lane splitting. When the traffic is basically stopped or moving 10-15mph, don't lane split at 50. You freak the car drivers out, scare them and piss them off. Then, I come along doing a nice, calm lane split and they don't want to let me by because you were an ass. And I see it enough to know this is true.

7- passing lane blockades. Folks you are not the police. It is not your job to sit in the passing lane, or the fast lane as it is known, and try to regulate traffic by driving the speed limit in that lane. Its my choice to risk a speeding ticket by passing in that lane--move over.

8-smokers and spitters. I am on a motorcycle. Where exactly do you think your cigarette ashes/butt or your spit go at 70mph when you send it out the side window? Nope. Not out the side like you intend, but behind you thanks to wind velocity. And guess who is behind you?

9- courtesy. All of us need to exhibit a little more of it on the road. See a slowdown ahead, let someone in your lane that is trying to merge. Driving a section of road with many freeway exits and entrances close together? Don't drive in the right lane. Let people use that for exiting and entering the freeway. Treat other drivers as you wish they would treat you.

Yeah I know. I ranted. But all of these things happen when I am on the road each day and all of them put my life in jeopardy and honestly, none of you have the right to do that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kawasaki Ninja 1000...700 miles of fun so far

After logging 700+ miles on the Ninjas 1000 I have come to some conclusions. First, it is not the bike I would replace my Kawasaki Concours 1400 with--and that bums me out. I wanted to LOVE this bike like I do the Concours. But... there is a but, the Ninja is clearly a much sportier sport-touring bike than the Connie.
It is nimble, light, fun and easy to pitch around. Living up to its' name, the Ninja 1000 attacks corners and punches down straightaway. The 1000cc engine spins up quickly and stays ready to accelerate in pretty much any gear--and that is one of the problems. Stock, it turns something in the realm of 5500rpm at 80mph in 6th gear. That means passing a car requires no downshifting, but it also means the engine is busy at that speed and fuel mileage reflects it. I am barely squeaking out 40mpg on my commute of 90 miles a day, most of it on the freeway --moving with traffic at 80-85mph, as traffic is prone to do in Southern California.

 
the riding position is very comfortable, taller bars than on the ZX-10, the Ninja lets you sit up and see the Pacific Ocean should you be riding south or north on the 5 freeway between Laguna Niguel and Encinitas each day. With three easy to adjust positions, the windscreen allows you to find a comfortable bubble to live in. Needless to say the saddlebags are handy, although while they will hold a full face helmet, they don't fit a backpack with a decent size laptop. At their widest the saddlebags are 36", so lane splitting is no biggie--and more than a few full Sportbike riders have been surprised as I led the way through gridlocked freeway traffic.
More fun techie stuff can be found on the handlebar switch set. Power modes, traction control, multiple trip meters, fuel mileage, average mileage, range and engine temperature are all available to scroll through with the left handgrip. This unit also has Kawasaki's terrific ABS system. Technology is not lacking on this bike.
Its a pleasant enough bike to ride around, again, easy to turn, maneuver and relax while you cruise. When you want to dig in on a hard corner, the Ninja 1000 is ready. I took one out late last year and ran some of my favorite Malibu Canyon roads--Latigo and Decker--and the Ninja worked really well, embracing my plant the front tire with the brakes into the turn, then be really hard on the throttle out of the turn riding style. For those of you who don't know me that well, I am never going to be a racer. I am really fast on slow roads, but just average on fast roads--I have never learned to trust the front tire, so I chose really tight roads and work really hard to go fast on them. This is where the Ninja 1000 kills my Concours, its well over 180 pounds lighter and that makes a huge difference in the tight stuff.
 
And that is the reason the Ninja 1000 is not the replacement for my Concours. My riding, while I like to think my riding is really exciting all the time, the reality is, I commute and just go places a lot. So, with that the comfort of the Connie, along with the 1400cc of power when I want it and all the other stuff I have battered on about with the 1400, means its the bike I am still most in love with. The Ninja 1000, is quite the exciting affair though!
 
 


Sunday, August 31, 2014

you do know that just because it has a fairing doesn't mean its a full sportbike, right?

I have been around motorcycles/motorcycling for a long time. I fell in love with the concept of man and machine back when motorcycles were just motorcycles. They were not sport touring bikes, or sport bikes, touring bikes or any other category. In fact when I fell in love with motorcycles Harleys were not even called cruisers, they were just motorcycles.

Back then you bought a bike, say a 1977 Suzuki GS 400 (My first non enduro street bike) and you made it do what you wanted it to do. That meant I added a rack and sissy bar to it for when I wanted to carry things, and a bolt on windshield for touring. You had to have a certain amount of imagination, mechanical skill and, most importantly, no preconceived notion of how good it was supposed to work when you were done. You just believed that the mods you made were the right changes to transform your bike.

Then the Gold Wing came along. And the Yamaha Virago. And the Suzuki GSXR. And then the Kawasaki Ninja. Suddenly there were sub categories and specialized motorcycles. The UJM(universal Japanese motorcycle--a basic, standard style bike), the bread and butter of the motorcycle industry quickly disappeared and good or bad, categories were created.

Side note here for you non-riding or just bought a Harley because they are cool folks: Ninja is not a style of motorcycle, its a sub brand at Kawasaki. That said, Ninja does not automatically mean full-sport race bike. Examples include the Ninja 1000 ( a sport touring bike) and the ZX14R, a much more drag bike than sport racing bike, as well as the Ninja 650,a wonderful commuter bike and the Ninja 300, a great beginners/commuter bike. And a Suzuki GSXR is not a Ninja. Nor is a Honda CBR a Ninja. Because it has a fairing and sporty lines does not make it a race bike. Take a quick look at the handlebars. If they are above the triple tree by an inch to three inches, sport/commuter. Clip on bars, under the triple tree? Race bike.

From the specialized categories, sub sub categories were developed. Sport Touring bike came along as the riding population realized they needed bikes to go as far as they used to as UJMs. The aftermarket responded with handlebar risers, footpeg lowering kits and wonderful detachable soft luggage. All this aftermarket excitement led manufactures to build purposeful sport touring bikes. And harder edge sport bikes. And cruisers that are more cruiser(y). The only thing that was left alone for the longest time was the enduro world. These bikes were still just dirt bikes with lights. Light, agile and fun to bash around on. Then somebody went and traveled on a dual purpose/enduro bike.

Suddenly a new category of large adventure bikes was born. In all fairness BMW invented this category in the mid-90s, but only engineers rode BMWs back then so no one really knew. Now, I have to say I am split on this category because the size of these bikes--Suzuki Vstrom, Triumph 800 Adventure, Yamaha Genre and many more, well off roading with them would be an adventure for sure. But on the other side, they are big, comfortable and functional bikes. You can whip one through a canyon dragging footpegs one day and then bomb out a 700 mile day the next. Its almost as if the UJM has come back around--with semi knobbies and hand protectors. Even Ducati, Aprilla and Moto Guzzi have adventure-esque bikes in their line up. This is a fast growing segment of the market because people seem to like riding comfortably and still having fun--imagine that, fun on motorcycles.

So, diatribe concluded, what did we learn? There are many types of motorcycles and as they say in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, The More You Know, the Better It Gets.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ZX14R--redefining what fast is

If you are one of the people I know who have only ridden Harleys, you can't comprehend just how fast this bike is. The Kawasaki ZX14R can do this:
0-30mph--1.2 seconds
0-60mph--2.6 seconds
0-90mph--4.2 seconds
0-100mph--4.8 seconds
1/4 mile ---9.47 @152mph
Top speed - 485 (electronically limited)

wrap your head around that. In less time than it takes you to do a three Mississippi count, it can accelerate to 60. With a pro rider like Rickey Gadson on a STOCK bike it can do sub 10second 1/4 mile passes. This bike is just plain fast.

And pretty comfortable, not gold wing comfortable, but roomy enough to let you relax while you cruise the Southern California freeway system looking for Ferraris and Lamborghinis to mess with.
 
but, the other thing about this bike is all about calm. It starts up, idles smoothly, has power modes and traction control and is quite happy running around town doing errands and never waking up the 1441cc sleeping beast under the plastic. Its just a regular sporty motorcycle with an engine that can press your brain backwards in your skull.
 
I will be putting 3-400 miles a week on this thing for a while so I will update my impressions as they come along, but for now I can tell you that Kawasaki understands fast motorcycles and is the reigning king of the jungle.