Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Ready for the Best Fall Colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A couple of weeks ago, I took a day and rode up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As you know, it is one of my favorite places to ride, being only 55 miles from home at its closest point.  Here is my report of the scenery.  Look at the end of the post for my guess on the best time to visit for fall colors. 

I ride up US-178 to Rosman, NC, then further north on NC-215 to the Parkway entrance.  The sun dapples on the pavement and riding into the sun in places make it difficult to judge the curves and road surface, so I take it easy.  Once the sun rises a bit, that problem will go away, though by that time, I will be on the Parkway. 

Almost to the Parkway entrance on NC-215.
That's Bucky and his GoPro in the bottom, left.

The Parkway entrance is just beyond that overpass.

I turn south toward Cherokee, NC.  Since it is early in the day, it is cold -- about 45 degrees, so I am bundled up and have the heated grips turned up to high.  I move along at the speed limit of 45 for most of the way.  Going in a generally south and western direction means that the blinding sun is behind me -- a good thing. 

I follow these two guys for a while.

Hello there.

Some reds are showing amongst the yellow and green.

You have to be careful of bicycles in the tunnels.


I pass the highest point on the Parkway, then go in several more miles and turn to go up to the parking lot at Waterrock Knob.  I take in the view and the colors here.

A nice mixture of colors -- about the best along here so far.

Also pretty.

I continue on the Parkway and discover a spur that I don't know about.  It is at milepost 458, about 13 miles from the south end of the Parkway, and leads to an entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  That paved road goes to the Heintooga Overlook.  I found out later, and I wish I had know about it when I was there.  Consequently, I didn't go that far.  (See the maps later on.) 

Heintooga Overlook.  
The road is also known as Heintooga Ridge Road, and there are quite a few hiking trails off this spur.
The one-lane unpaved Heintooga Round Bottom Road begins there. Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads are usually open from late May through October.  - See more at:

The one-lane unpaved Heintooga Round Bottom Road begins there. Heintooga Ridge and Balsam Mountain Roads are usually open from late May through October.  - See more at:
The road continues from the overlook as Heintooga Roundbottom Road, 14 miles to Cherokee, NC.  It is one way and is dirt and gravel.  Here is a link to some overlook and road info. 

I turn back to the main Parkway road and continue toward Cherokee.   I turn right at the end of the Parkway, just to see what's there.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park starts there.  It is only about 34 miles to Gatlinburg, NC, that haven of tourist traps.  That's the direction my new friend Robert took a few months ago on his epic journey. 

I don't want to get into that much traffic, so I turn back toward the town of Cherokee.  I fuel up, in the too-busy town, then hurry back to the relative calm of the Parkway.

This time, I go further than NC-215 where I first entered.  I continue on, past Mt. Pisgah, where there is a good restaurant and hotel.   Further still, I reach the outskirts of Asheville, NC, and route NC-191.  There, I leave the Parkway and take I-26 and US-25 back home.  It is fast to come back that way, but the concrete joints are a punishment to my back.

There's my turn. 
Too many uneven slab joints on I-26!
And too much traffic.
All together I have ridden 270 miles today.  Although the leaf colors are not at their peak, the ride is still beautiful and this is still my favorite road. 

Here are some individual maps, and an interactive map of the trip from Pickens, SC to Cherokee, NC, about 89 miles.
  • Pushpin A - Pickens SC
  • Pushpin B - Rosman, NC
  • Pushpin C - Parkway entrance from NC-215
  • Pushpin D - Waterrock Knob
  • Pushpin E - Entrance to Heintooga Ridge Road
  • Pushpin F - South end of the Parkway

Here are some more individual maps, and an interactive map of the trip from Cherokee, NC: to Asheville, NC, about 77 miles. 
  • Pushpin A - South end of the Parkway
  • Pushpin B - Entrance to Heintooga Ridge Road
  • Pushpin C - Waterrock Knob
  • Pushpin D - Parkway entrance from NC-215
  • Pushpin E - Pisgah Inn
  • Pushpin F - Entrance to Parkway at NC-191

By the way, to answer your question about when is the best time to see the colors.  Well, I'm guessing that the best time to visit the Parkway for fall colors is


So get moving, or you'll miss it! 

An Alternative Destination in the Same Neighborhood:

A close-by attraction I could have gone to instead is in Maggie Valley.  The Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum.  Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Flashy, Flashy


No, no, not Will Smith's Men in Black flashy thing.

Let's talk about something else first.

Not long after I bought my Ninja 650R, I added a couple of things to it that I thought were expedient.

One thing I added was a set of frame-mounted sliders.  These are the type that were available from Kawasaki.

The slider is the round black object protruding through the bottom of the cooling air vent.
Photo taken four days after bike purchase.

The sliders have helped prevent damage to the pretty -- and expensive -- plastic cowlings several times.  Most of these times were low or no-speed tipovers when making a sharp U-turn or when balancing the bike where there is gravel or where there is a major slope to the road.

OK, now, let's talk about flashy, flashy.

The other thing I added was a headlight modulator to make the bike more conspicuous to oncoming traffic.  The Ninja has two headlights.  The low beam is on all the time, and the high beam comes on in addition to the low beam, when extra light is needed.

I bought a Comagination VisiPath sS115H7, available now for $55.98.  The unit comes with connector plugs that are supposed to go between the wiring harness and the bike's H7 headlight bulb terminals.  The Ninja has a headlight bulb adapter, however, so the plug won't mate up as intended.  Instead, the ground female spade connector had to be removed from within the connector plug on the bulb modulator so the two female spade terminals can slide onto the wider spacing of the adapter on the bike.

Like this:

The cylindrical electronics housing is about 1-3/8" diameter by 5/8" high.

Photo shows H4 bulb connector.
It will fit easily on most bikes.  I wire tied mine to some other wiring so it doesn't flop around.  

You can connect the modulator to either the low or high beam, but not both at the same time.  (There are other models that allow you to connect two bulbs to one modulator.)

I connected the high beam lamp to it.  Now, the low beam comes on as usual, and when I turn on the high beam, it modulates.  The modulated lamp is varied between 18 and 100% brightness at about 4 times per second.  It works only with incandescent bulbs, halogen, and xenon, not with HID.

One more thing is needed to make the device functional.  There is a photocell that is mounted so it can see daylight.  I found a place between the instruments and windshield. 


The purpose of this is so the high beam does not modulate at night or when in a dark place like a garage or tunnel. 

[So, does the modulator have any effect, Bucky?  Does it ward off mishaps?]

Take a look at this video: 

Taken from a YouTube video by HuachucaGuy of a Bergman scooter with modulator.
(It sounds like he breaks the sound barrier just as he passes the camera.)
His original video is here.

What do you think?  Does it help make the bike more visible? 

There are a couple of differences between his setup and mine.  My bike has one headlight that is always on low beam.  The other headlight is high beam only and comes on in addition to the low beam and modulates.  His bike has two dual element headlights, and he modulates both headlights on high beam.  (Try as I might, I could not get my video camera to clearly show the modulation.  Thus, the borrowed video above.) 

There is no way to tell for sure whether the modulating headlight has prevented any mishaps.  I can tell you, though, that there have been many instances where a vehicle has begun to pull out, but stopped short and waited for me to pass.  I suspect that this is mostly because of the modulator setup.

If it has helped avoid even one crash or near miss, then the unit is worth its weight in gold.  But, I still ride as though no one can see me, always on the lookout for danger. 

There is an occasional side effect that I need to tell you about.  When I am following someone, and modulator is on, the driver of the car I am following sometimes seems to be seeking out a place to pull off the road.  This could be because the modulating light is annoying.  (It may be, so I usually turn it off when I am following a car closely.)   The other possibility is that they think I am John Law.  I think this is a distinct possibility.  Some drivers have actually pulled over and stopped.

I'm sure they are relieved that they weren't being stopped for some traffic violation. 

Though I have replaced the low beam lamp several times in the last 50,000 miles, I have yet to replace the high beam.  I ride with the modulator on almost all the time, so the modulator doesn't seem to reduce bulb life at all.  In fact, it may extend it, because the modulator uses electronic switching so it is a soft ramping up and down in brightness rather than an abrupt on/off. 

Comagination also sells a brake light modulator that flashes the brake light a few times, then makes it come on constantly.  I had purchased one of these, but it has a characteristic that I think is detrimental.  It delays the illumination of the brake lamp for a fraction of a second before it begins to flash.  This reduces the reaction time a following driver has when you put on the brakes.  I removed that modulator and, instead, added an LED auxiliary brake lamp beneath the license place.  The LED lights faster than the incandescent bulb, so it provides a larger margin of reaction time to the driver behind.
Safety first! 

So, what's your take on the headlight flashy, flashy thing?   Is it beneficial, like Will Smith's?  Better than his?  

Additional info:

Here is a video that shows how the photocell turns off modulation when you enter a tunnel, garage, or when it gets dark. 

Here is an update on the modulator I installed.