Saturday, June 13, 2009

Local Photographer on Twisty Roads

Nearly anyone who rides a motorcycle has heard of the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina. Actually, it is route US-129, and has 318 curves in 11 miles. That is a pretty crooked road, though they embellish its description a bit by counting any curve with a varying radius as more than one.

You may also know that there are several photographers who take prodigious numbers of pictures of vehicles as they pass through there. Amongst them, Killboy, MoonShinePhoto, and US129 Photos. They sell prints on their websites to put food on their tables. Many motorcyclists from around here make the 150 mile trip to run the Dragon, in part, to be able to get a picture of themselves carving the curves.

I have written several times about traveling US-178, north of SC-11. It is a favorite nearby motorcycle road with good scenery surrounding it.

As you have come to know, I like to explore that scenery and have ridden the road quite a bit. All manner of bikers from scooters to trikes travel it.

The gathering point for almost all the motorcyclists and bicyclists is the Holly Springs Country Store at the intersection of SC-11 and US-178.

Lately, a local amateur photographer, Patrick Welch of P.G. Welch Photography, has taken to snapping pictures of riders on a section of US-178 north of there.

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Patrick classes himself as an advanced amateur photographer, and he is out today. He has positioned himself on an S curve just south of Rocky Bottom.

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The S curve consists of one with a larger radius than the other, but both decreasing radius. The rider can stay within the speed limit and still be able to get his knee down.

Now I'm no where near skilled enough to try that, but I want to see my form in the curves, so I make a few passes -- well, maybe more than a few. Apparently it is a slow day for motorcycles, because my multiple passes cause me to get the most exposure of any rider.

Here are thumbnails of pictures taken by Patrick as a sampling of the bikes out today.

Through the wonders of the Internet, you can see the road here.

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I ordered some prints and their photo files on CD-ROM as well. Here are some shots he took of yours truly navigating that S curve.

Headed north just coming out of the south curve of the S.

Done with the south curve and headed toward the north curve.

Headed back south on the south curve.

The photo CD-ROM even has a label on it containing one of the photographs and the date and location of the shoot. He is very accommodating, and gives quick service through SmugMug. I think Patrick does a good job of framing the shots and getting a sharp image. Maybe some day he can quit his day job and do this full time.

If you come through here, look at his schedule to see if he will be out with his camera. He also does other types of photography, so look him up.

When not watching the birdie today, I ride up to the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain. The road is well paved but bumpy almost all the way to the top. Here is a terrain map to the top from Rocky Bottom.

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The turnoff at Rocky Bottom has this distinctive home across from it.

I pass two bicyclists laboring their way up, but that is all. There is no other traffic. The road has a short downhill section in the middle of the climb, so you have to regain the elevation lost there. The bicyclists tend not to like that.

At the parking lot near the summit, a middle-aged man emerges from one of the hiking trails carrying a backpack, saying that he had been out for several days, and is about to head for home in Pickens. He looks tired, having hiked over the tallest peaks nearby and now to the highest point in the state.

The short trail from the parking lot to the top starts here.

Photo by Ryan Cragun, on the Summitpost website.

By the way, the ride starts in Rocky Bottom at about 1745 feet in elevation and climbs to the 3560 foot summit in slightly less than 6 miles.

The tattered sign at the top near the parking lot.

There isn't much to see from the top without hiking a ways because it is almost completely undeveloped and there are no overlooks. Actually, that is kind of nice: There are few people to disturb the solitude. Nearby hiking is plentiful and information about it is here.

After I have a couple of granola bars and a bottle of water, I head back down the hill and make one more pass of the photographer. I get up a little more speed this time, and I am closer to my (not the bike's) limit on the tighter of the two curves that is decreasing radius from this direction, but I don't panic and make it through just fine.

I motor home via. Table Rock State Park and Pumpkintown.

In all, I have ridden 113 miles today, an interesting day out.

Now, to examine those pictures to see about my riding form.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Covered Bridge, Kudzu, and Lead Sleds in Pretty Country

October 25, 2008, about eight months ago.

I decide to take an easy ride to the east and north to see what is there.

First, I ride through Greenville and beyond the downtown section to the Cycle Gear store. I like to look around in this store. The sales people are usually quite helpful. I browse a little, but don't find anything I can't live without.

I motor up through Greer South Carolina to Campbell's Covered Bridge, which is here on the map:

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A little history from the Greenville County Library website:
"Built in 1909, Campbell Covered Bridge remains the only covered bridge in South Carolina. Charles Irwin Willis erected the 38-foot long, 12-foot wide pine structure across the Beaverdam Creek on Pleasant Hill road. Locals believe that the bridge was named for Lafayette Campbell, who at the time that the bridge was built owned 194 acres near the bridge.

"In 1966 major restoration work was completed on the bridge."
I set my camera to black and white, so it looks like an olden-times picture.

View of the Beaverdam Stream beneath the bridge.

And in color -- reentering the twenty-first century.

You can walk down to water level for this view.

The historical marker.

The interior structure.

I walk to the far side of the bridge and happen across this scene.

For you city boys, those are goats. They are grazing here behind the barbed wire, tended by this fellow.

Actually, the goats have been hired to provide a specific service here. They are cleaning out the Kudzu that infested this area. They are rented out by the day to do this work. Fido there is watching over them.

For those of you who are not from the South, here is some information about Kudzu from Wikipedia:
"Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. From 1935 to the early 1950s the Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers in the Southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion as above, and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted it widely for many years.

"However, it was subsequently discovered that the Southeastern US has near-perfect conditions for kudzu to grow out of control — hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall, temperate winters with few hard freezes (kudzu cannot tolerate low freezing temperatures that bring the frost line down through its entire root system, a rare occurrence in this region), and no natural predators. As such, the once-promoted plant was named a pest weed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1953."
This is what the kudzu had done to the trees and other vegetation.

This information is from the Greenville News.
"Greenville County Recreation District will be employing 30 goats as temps. They will be used to clear underbrush on about 15 acres to help preserve the historic Campbell’s Covered Bridge Park. The terrain is too rocky or steep for human or machine clearing. Heavy equipment might send silt and mud into the Beaverdam Creek and damage or destroy part of the old homestead. Goats not only clear large areas of brush and weeds, including poison oak and poison ivy, they also fertilize and till. You need 10 goats per acre. They will clear it in a month."
Yes, there is a company that does this. It is called Wells Goat Farm.
Here is the after photo of what the goats did in one month.

I took another picture of Fido. He looks mighty pleased with himself, doesn't he?

I wander off the main roads a bit and find a house with several lead sleds in the yard.

Now, for those who don't know what a lead sled is, it is a car whose body has been modified, usually by smoothing out contours and removing chrome adornment. This may also include Frenching in head and taillights, as well as antennas, chopping and channeling, and other modifications.

But why lead sled? That is because before the invention of polyester body putty -- Bondo is a common brand -- an alloy of lead was used to fill imperfections and dents. It was 30% tin and 70% lead. You can still buy it from Eastwood, along with instructional videos and tools to apply it.

My first glimpse of the lead sleds was from here. The horse got my attention, but the cars beyond him might have been just another grouping of tired old wrecks that you see around the countryside.

I ride down the road a bit and stop in front of the property to get a better look. First there is a 1955 Oldsmobile.

The door handles and hood ornament have been removed, as have the front and rear bumpers, parking lights have been set into the panel that replaces the front bumper, the headlights have been made into quads and Frenched in, and the grill has been Frenched in as well. A set of alloy wheels has been installed.

It probably looked like this when new, except for the alloy wheels and lowering of this car.

Next is a 1941 Chevrolet. This is almost the last of the prewar Chevrolets. A few 1942 models were produced before the auto plants were turned over to wartime production. That is probably a 1947 to 1950 Dodge behind it.

The front and rear bumpers have been removed along with some other chrome. It has been lowered and fitted with alloy wheels. The Chevrolet probably looked like this when new.

My father owned one of these that he bought new just before the war began. It was a Special Deluxe 2 door sedan. Master Deluxe was the base model. It was black, and was damaged by a falling tree when it was just a few months old. Repaired, it served many years, being used by my brother until about 1956. It had a vacuum shift, which was very troublesome. This gave you about an 8" throw from first to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd, and reverse. With the vacuum working properly, you had about a 3-4" shift. It also had an under-the-dash defroster and under-the-passenger-seat heater, a dealer-installed cartridge-type oil filter, a Motorola push-button radio, and a single backup light. Quite the fancy ride.

That red one behind the Olds is probably a 1946 Chevrolet Fleetline.

It is basically the same as the 1942 model with minor chrome changes. It probably looked like this when new.

Note that the right rear fender of the Olds in front of the Fleetline is in primer paint. Maybe they are working on a repair.

Anyway, these cars are sitting in a yard out in the country and apparently are mostly not being used. That is a shame. They actually look pretty good from the street.

The view of the mountains from here is great. That is the Blue Ridge Escarpment there in the distance. I wish I had been able to get a picture with fewer foreground distractions, but you get the idea of the beauty of the area.

The land is very gently rolling below the escarpment.

Later, I make my way past Wildcat Branch Falls, then to Table Rock State Park and snap a few pictures. The sky is particularly pretty today, I think, and the fall colors reflect nicely off the lake. ...and it is time for a potty break.

I ride home along US-178.

I have ridden about ninety-six miles today along this route -- a short ride, but with some neat scenery.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Visit to the BMW Zentrum

April 9, 2009, about two months ago.

I had wanted to visit the BMW Zentrum that is over in Greer South Carolina ever since I bought my bike, but it is only open Monday through Friday, between 9:30 AM and 5:30 PM, so I have never been able to go because of work. The engineer in me and the motorcyclist that I am becoming are both interested in seeing what is there.

Oh, and I believe they make cars there, too. Maybe they will have some of them on display.

You may be curious, so I looked it up: According to, the word Zentrum means center in German.

The Zentrum is not far from home, about thirty miles. It is a weekday, so I must work some, and I ride to work in the morning. It is about fifty-five degrees, so I put on some layers to keep the chill out. It turns out that I have to work longer than I intended to -- the work has to get done, and there is no one else to do it -- but I get away in the early afternoon. The temperature has warmed into the high sixties, but the winds are gusting strongly.

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The route requires me to ride the I-85 superslab for about twenty miles, through the heart of Greenville and beyond. I have not ridden much on interstate highways, especially in the city, so I am not looking forward to this part of the trip very much. Now it isn't like Chicago or New York here, but it is certainly busier than many of the roads I usually ride. I take the surface streets to the entrance and merge into fairly heavy traffic. It gets worse as I near Greenville, and I am buffeted by the winds and by the shedding vortices of the transport trucks speeding by. The speed limit is sixty miles per hour, but I am running sixty-five and there is a lot of traffic passing me. I ride mostly in the second lane from the right to avoid merging vehicles, and I am mostly not holding up traffic too badly.

I finally see the Zentrum on my left, so the exit is coming up.

I turn off, then go a little ways to the BMW driveway and turn in there. Even with the poor economy, they are expanding their manufacturing plant to the tune of $750 million. (Click on the "expansion update" link to see a panable aerial view.) BMW laid off more than 700 contract employees at its local complex in response to the dramatic sales downturn in the fall, but about 5,000 people still work at the complex. The 1.5-million-square-foot expansion, will boost production capacity by 50,000 vehicles a year, to 200,000, and prepare the complex to make the next generation of the BMW X3. The expanded paint shop is already complete. Currently, BMW makes the X5 and X6 sports activity vehicles here.

I slowly ride to the parking lot, but don't immediately see any spots reserved for motorcycles. Odd: A motorcycle manufacturer that doesn't cater to them. I later see a few, but it is too late now. I settle on one of the other plentiful parking spaces, park, dismount, gather my tank bag and helmet, set my alarm, and begin walking. The parking lot is quite a ways from the building entrance, about two tenths of a mile.

I snap a few pictures on the way, so this walk isn't entirely wasted. Side view of the Zentrum. The manufacturing plant and offices are to the right of the building.

An inviting entrance.

Once inside, I ask the receptionist where I can stow my bag, helmet and jacket. She walks to a row of nicely finished cabinets and opens a door. Apparently these are the coat closets as there are clothes rods and hangers inside. Once that is done, I begin to wander through the displays. There are bunches of motorcycles here along with many vintage BMW automobiles.

Next is a Z3 Roadster. In fact it is the very first Z3 to come off the assembly line. It was James Bond's car in the 1995 film "GoldenEye". Seeing that it was Agent 007's car, the VIN ends with the digits 007. More Z3s were built in a single day than the entire number of 507s produced. It was also the first BMW automobile built entirely in the United States.

Next up is the Z1 Roadster. This was developed by the BMW engineering think tank known as Technik. It was never intended to be a production vehicle, but public reaction was good enough to produce it in limited numbers -- 8000. It has a tubular space frame, a thermoplastic body, electrically retracted doors, and six-cylinder engine.

The Alpina Roadster has a nice writeup reproduced here.

After the roadsters, there is a display of various BMW engines and transmissions (and some motorcycles there in the background that we'll see in a few minutes).

The R 60/5 Engine was originally conceived my Max Friz, one of BMW's founding fathers. It has the typical boxer layout of horizontally opposed cylinders and integrated shaft drive. The horizontally opposed cylinders help reduce vibration of other configurations.

Here is an engineering drawing showing the general arrangement of the horizontally opposed engine, transmission, and shaft drive.

And now the motorcycles. Some key models are displayed on this sloping track replica, starting with the oldest.

The R 47 is the successor to the R 37.

Note the location of the R 47 rear brake and the pedal that operates it directly.

And the controls are pretty nifty. Look at those levers and the hand shift.

The R 27 fit into the category of under 200 cc in displacement, so a driver's license was not required to operate one in the first half of the twentieth century. Therefore, BMW introduced this single cylinder model. The engine was mounted in rubber blocks to reduce vibration transmitted to the frame. This was the last of the single cylinder motorcycles produced by BMW until the introduction of the F 650 in 1993.

The R 50 was equipped with a swing arm suspension. Introduced at about the same time as the Isetta that we will see later, it was priced higher! Therefore, many of the mini cars were sold, having the advantage of an enclosed passenger compartment.

The R 90 S was more streamlined than the previous models and had an airbrushed paint job over the molded body. It had front dual disk brakes.

The K 75 S introduced the Compact Drive System. The three-cylinder engine was water cooled and mounted longitudinally in the frame with its axis in line with the bike centerline.

The R 1100 RS was a redesign to reduce noise and emissions. It had a four valve per cylinder design with digital electronic control and had antilock brakes. This particular motorcycle was one that was prepared for the Battle of the Legends where the great racers riding identical motorcycles were pitted against one another.

Now back to the, um, cars.

Post World War II Europe needed inexpensive transportation, so an Italian company Iso developed a small car with a motorcycle engine and licensed it to other manufacturers. BMW expanded the line to several models.

And a bit larger version.

And another combination for the camping family.

Then some more motorcycles. I didn't get the specs on these. This first one is sure an eye popper, though. It is a K1 of about 1990.

Look at the story about this one.

Lots of tough miles, including in the dense jungles! ...and we complain about city streets.

And some classic BMW automobiles.

Here is an example of current production at this BMW plant, the X5.

The manufacturing plant where I work is about to begin making a part that will go into the X5 and X6, so I get down on my hands and knees with my head on the floor and underneath the side of the vehicles on display to see whether I can spot the location of our part. It turns out that I cannot, as it is behind some other components.

Apparently someone saw my gymnastics, because a man walked up to me a few minutes later and politely asked if he could help me with anything. I just as politely told him that I was just trying to see the underside of the vehicle. Now I am sure that many people who are wearing leather motorcycle suits slip under the vehicles on display just like I did, looking at their design.

Maybe I am not that out of the ordinary....or maybe I am.

Nearby is a small stand-up movie theatre where they show a film about engineering and assembly of the BMW X series.

I finish my tour and retrieve my belongings from the fine cabinets near the entrance. It is rush hour now, so I put on all my gear and prepare to go into the teeth of the traffic once again. The wind has not died down much and remains gusty, so the trip back is about the same as my trip here. Once I get home, I find that I have ridden about 73 miles.

I'm glad I went. There were a lot of interesting vehicles to see.

If you go, bring your camera and spend a couple of hours looking around. There is a gift shop so you can take home a souvenir. They also offer a plant tour that I didn't have time for. Maybe next time.

A parting shot: Another picture of that red K1 with the yellow wheels. I'm think I'm getting the fever.