Monday, January 26, 2009

First rides ...and a mishap

Once I had the motorcycle home, I began looking it over. The fine, shiny plastic cowlings gleamed in the light, and it seemed prudent to buy a set of frame sliders in case I tipped it over. I did not want to cut the cowlings as some sliders require, so I settled on a set of Kawasaki OEM sliders. I bought them from Blue Ridge Performance [BRP], their having the best price. Gary, the owner is a bit of a character, but he has good prices on 650R parts and accessories. Once the sliders arrived, I installed them over the next couple of evenings.

I also thought it prudent to get some body armor to wear when riding. The SquidBusters Forum had advertisements for the VelocityGear Juggernaut armored shirt. It consists of a back protector, chest protector, shoulder, elbow, and forearm CE-approved armor. The back protector can be zipped off to be used separately. It was priced attractively, and there was a discount if you were a forum member. I placed the order.

...and I bought a new silver helmet, a Scorpion EXO-700.

Oh. I should tell you that for some reason, while I was waiting for the MSF Basic class weekend to roll around, I decided to grow a beard and mustache. Actually a goatee and mustache. I had not had facial hair for around thirty years, so this was out of the ordinary. Maybe I was announcing the new me -- macho, motorcycle rider, hairy faced, young (second childhood?). Who knows. Actually, that is about the time I started using the nickname Bucky, too.

The first time out riding on my own, I was very shaky. I wobbled around turns, had to remind myself to look where I wanted to go, and generally had a time of it thinking about all the things that must happen to control and maneuver a motorcycle. There was not yet any sign of muscle memory helping me coordinate everything that had to happen. At any rate, the first few rides were taxing, and unnerving, with only a little of the enjoyment and exhilaration I longed to feel. I found that running along a straight road at 45 miles an hour was scary to me.

Slowly I gained some confidence, and began to have moments of enjoyment when riding. I ventured out on the roads near our house over several days, occasionally going further away.

I learned about target fixation next. It was a hard and expensive lesson. I was on a slightly curvy road, thought I could not make a turn, looked hard at the edge of the road, and went off within an inch of where I was looking. The ditch was shallow, but my nearly-new bike was in several pieces. Some of the shiny cowlings were scarred up, and the windshield, the seat, and a few other miscellaneous things were all separate from the carcass.

I called my wife from my cell phone with the news. She excited. So there I was, having flown off a nearly new motorcycle that is laying in pieces along a considerable stretch of road, asking my wife to be calm. I talked her down. A little while later, she drove to the site and stayed there with the bike while I went to borrow the neighbor's trailer to bring the whole mess home. She diligently piled all the loose pieces up so it would be less work once I arrived with the trailer. Two of our neighbors, Wes and Randy, were very helpful and sympathetic. Thank you, kind sirs. Once home and with the carcass unloaded into the garage, Randy gently asked me if I thought I would fix it and ride again, or whether that was the end. He philosophically and quietly stated that he had seen it done both ways. ...and he left it at that. At that point, I closed the garage door and went to bed.
I have dwelled on the injuries to the bike, but not the injuries to me. I must tell you that I was almost unscathed. Here is why. I vowed from the start to wear all of my protective gear whenever riding, no matter how short a distance. You remember the photo of me on the Honda Nighthawk at the MSF Basic class wearing a leather suit, boots, gloves, and helmet? That was the start of wearing all the gear, all the time [ATGATT].

When I took my tumble, I was wearing all this gear:
  1. Fieldsheer two-piece leather suit
  2. VeocityGear Juggernaut armored shirt
  3. Joe Rocket Sonic boots
  4. ICON TiMax long gloves
  5. Scorpion EXO-700 helmet
I suffered aches and pains for a few weeks afterward. Over-the-counter painkillers made it tolerable. Without the gear, I could have been much more seriously injured. My strong advice: NEVER, EVER ride in anything but full gear. Anyway, I think it looks cool. I can ride up with a bunch of others, and not until I remove my helmet do the bystanders realize that I am middle-aged. That makes me feel pretty good.

I already hear your excuses:
  1. It is too hot.
  2. I don't like to be all bundled up.
  3. I like to feel the wind in my hair.
  4. It is too expensive.
  5. Nobody else wears it.
  1. Wait until you feel the burning when they take skin grafts from your back/chest/head/thigh.
  2. Wait until they start to pick the gravel out of your hide.
  3. You might not have a skull, let alone hair, if you fall on your head...or you might be a vegetable.
  4. How much does one emergency room visit cost? And the lost wages away from the job?
  5. Everybody who is serious and practical wears the gear.
Look at these, if you can bear to do so, to see the effects of a tumble from a motorcycle:
So, I learned that target fixation works perfectly. The experts are correct: Your bike will go where you look!

It took me quite a while to get over the psychological trauma of my tumble. I had lost quite a bit of confidence in myself. I could not bear to tell my coworkers what had happened. Once I got over the initial despair, I started to determine how to make the bike rideable again. It turned out that it was good therapy to find parts and figure out how to put them together into a real motorcycle. A local shop, Baker's Cycle Werx, helped with some work I could not manage on my own.

Well, enough about my accident. Suffice it to say that two months and many dollars later the bike was back in one piece and almost as good as new.

I started riding to work as much as I could. There was almost nobody there who could believe that I had actually bought a motorcycle, let alone a sporty one. Even now, when I ride in, some of my work associates comment to me about my "Power Ranger" appearance as I come into the plant.

I met a grandmother at the post office last Saturday in fact, who said her four-year-old grandson riding with her in the car had spotted me riding up, and told her that I looked like a Transformer. I went over to talk with him for a few minutes about how he might be able to get a motorcycle one day but, as I knocked on my helmet, that he had to be careful with it so he didn't get hurt. Maybe the seed is planted.

I started riding further and further away from home, and I have visited some of the many sites within about 100 miles. I'll report on them in upcoming postings.

Meanwhile, here is what I usually look like when I ride, though usually without the saddle and tail bags.

Note that I am wearing ATGATT and that you can see the frame sliders.

...all color coordinated, to boot!

Pretty snazzy, don't you think?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The next step -- a REAL motorcycle

I began to get more serious about riding a motorcycle when our son neared his senior year in college. He had been away at school, and I needed a new hobby. I bought a few motorcycle magazines, and lurked on motorcycle forums for several months. I asked a guy at work who used to ride a motorcycle whether he thought I could learn to ride one. Once he closed his mouth -- it having fallen open at the question -- he thought for a minute and said, "Sure, why not?" I must tell you that he is a raging optimist, but I believed him nonetheless. Jeff has my thanks for his advice and vote of confidence.

I knew I wanted a sporty bike. My search of the Internet, the forums, and magazines had pointed me toward a Kawasaki Ninja 650R. It looked good and was said to be beginner-friendly. I searched the Internet, and ran across one for sale on CraigsList, about forty miles away. I e-mailed the seller, and found that he still had it. I asked him to let me know if he found another buyer.

Now I had to figure out how to learn to ride such a beast. As it happens, my wife helped me out on this. ...inadvertently, to be sure, however. She had received a flyer from the local community college, and spotted a class on stained glass she wanted to take. I told her that that was fine with me, and that I would like to take it as well. We took the class and made some nice projects. About the time we took the classes, I had also found that the college offered the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Riders Class.

I casually mentioned to my wife that I would like to take the class. After her mouth came closed -- it having fallen open at the question -- she quizzed me about why I would want to do something so stupid and dangerous at my advanced age. I explained that I had always been interested in motorcycles, and wanted to see if I could do it. She asked our son whether he knew that I was interested in riding a motorcycle, and he said, "Sure mom, didn't you know that?" I guess I had hidden it rather well. Anyway, I further explained that you didn't have to own a motorcycle to take the class, and if I couldn't learn, I would only be out the cost of the instruction. She resigned herself with a sigh, and I signed up.

The prerequisite for taking the class was that you had ridden a two-wheel bicycle. Well, I had done that, certainly. Quite a bit in fact in my earlier years, though my last ride had been at Thanksgiving 1997 on a seashore vacation where I had arranged for our son and I to ride with two groups -- first one about twenty miles, second one thirty miles. I could still manage to maneuver a bicycle, so I met the MSF prerequisite. Fortunately, the MSF class did not say anything about the amount of wind needed to sign up, as that has become a little less available over the years. (No windbag comments, please.)

The basic class was booked up until late September 2007. I studied the on-line materials, and showed up for the class. The Friday evening was classroom instruction. I am bookish, so that was easy for me. Come Saturday, it was a stiflingly hot day, and I had dressed in leathers to protect me from skinning myself up in case I fell off the powerful and menacing machine provided for the class. If I lost any of my hide, my wife might dig in her heels on agreeing to let me ride. By the way, the leathers came from a pawn shop some years back. (I told you I had been thinking about this for a long time.)

The little Honda Nighthawk they paired me with was a cute thing, and it fit my tall, gangly frame reasonably well. Incidentally, the Basic Rider Class is a must for anyone considering riding. They cover the key things that you must know how to do to get started. Despite the fact that this is only a beginning, it lays the foundation for riding experience and for further classes a rider should take later on.

The class went fairly well for me. At least I was not the oldest one there. That was a good sign. Unfortunately the woman who was older was not doing so well. I envisioned myself doing that poorly, and ending my riding career before it started. The instructors were very good at describing and demonstrating the techniques to be taught. They were also firm when we didn't do what they told us to do.

I found that I could perform most of the exercises with a little practice. I also found myself using a little speed, and actually getting into second gear at times. Confidence builds quickly -- much faster than competence, they say. I was feeling pretty good about myself when it happened: I diligently parked the bike when flagged in, hit the cutoff switch, turned off the ignition, closed the fuel petcock, and began to dismount, promptly dropping the bike onto my leg. I had not put down the kickstand. As the instructor ran toward me, I wrenched my leg from beneath the behemoth. He looked me over and asked if I was hurt. Luckily, my leather pants came in handy, protecting me from the protruding controls and hot exhaust pipe. He made the best of it, demonstrating how to get the bike up on its wheels again, then asking me to fill out the required accident report. The shifter was bent and had to be straightened before continuing. My pride was hurt. I was embarrassed to be the only one to drop a bike over the whole weekend. I considered dropping out and never riding again.

I did succeed in getting through the final riding exam with a mediocre score, and I aced the written exam. After some thought, I decided to persevere. I called the guy with the 650R for sale and set up a time to see it. I took a friend with me who is a Highway Patrol motorcycle officer. He looked over the bike, rode it, and pronounced it fit. It looked new and there was not a scratch on it. It had about a thousand miles on it, and was being sold to help make ends meet for a young man whose wife was to have their third child. I struck up a deal with the owner and arranged with a fellow I work with to ride it home for me. Remember, I had not even sat on another motorcycle besides the little Nighthawk at this point.

The fellow, Aaron, who rode it home is a skilled sportbike rider who has a Ninja 636 that is a few years old but looks like new. Based on the ride home, he said the 650R is comfortable and possesses good torque for acceleration without gear changes.

I was now the owner of a sport motorcycle. All I had to do was learn to ride it.

The intermediate steps on two wheels

That first step toward riding a motorcycle was actually preceded and followed by much bicycle riding. I did not have a 26 inch two wheeled bike until I was about twelve years old, but I rode it many miles through the same neighborhoods I would later ride the mini bike. The mini bike put an end to that riding for several years thereafter.

Interestingly, the 26 inch bike was purchased from Sears Robuck & Company using silver dollars given to me by my dad. He had received them from his customers on his laundry and dry cleaning route. Before he gave them to me, he polished them up in the basement at the sink using a scrub brush and scouring powder. This made them clean and bright.

When I started college, I lived close enough to commute on a bicycle, so I went to a department store, with a schoolmate advising, and bought a ten-speed bike. I fitted it with a luggage rack, and it served me well through engineering school and beyond. Many a day could find me wheeling onto campus with my books strapped to the rack. Even in winter, despite my northern location, I often rode if the streets were reasonably clear.

There is another interesting anecdote that I must tell you. I was nearing graduation from college as my wife-to-be was just getting started on the same campus. She would make it a point to "happen by" the engineering building at just the right time to intercept me as I arrived. She knew that I always locked my bike to the railing in a particular stairwell, so she also knew where to position herself. If I were driving in, my parking place would vary depending on availability, which made it much more difficult to find me. So that bicycle played a bit part in our marriage of almost thirty-four years now.

That bike lasted until I was about twenty-eight years old, when I rounded a corner and a car pulled out catching the bike frame just behind my leg. The bike was fatally injured, but I escaped without harm.

I bought a new ten-speed bike and rode it many a mile until about ten years ago. We moved to a new place where the roads have no berms, and drivers don't watch for bikes, so I started running, walking, and did more in-line skating instead. Actually, I had started skating when I was about forty years old. I bought a set of skates and protective pads at a closeout store. Yes, an older guy skating is a sight to behold. I am the only adult in the neighborhood who skates on the street. The protective gear is a precursor to my using ATGATT today (All the gear, all the time) when I ride the motorcycle.


I am Bucky.

I started riding a motorcycle in late 2007, in my fifth decade of life.

I had always been interested in riding, but the closest I had gotten previously was on a mini bike that my brother and I built from scratch when I was sixteen years old. It had a cast iron Briggs & Stratton model 6 engine built in 1952 that put out less than three horsepower. Nevertheless, I rode it -- much of the time at full throttle -- for many enjoyable miles over the next three years or so. It was licensed as a motorcycle. The last year it was licensed was 1970, and eventually it was relegated to the garage. I still had it until the summer of 2008 when I sold it to a boy who used his birthday money to buy it.

The adjacent pictures show the bike after it was repainted a few years ago. The frame is electrical conduit. The handlebars, wheels and a few other items were purchased. Note the neat dual exhaust. That was my brother's idea. The old fashioned exposed rope starter drum is also a bit of a hazard to the rider's ankle!

About the same time it was repainted, I bought a carburetor rebuild kit from the local lawn mower repair shop. It was readily available, and fit perfectly, making the engine run like new. That is saying something for an engine that is fifty-six years young!


That was the first chapter in the saga.