Tag Archives: Motorcycle

No Charge

I have spent the past year carpooling with my wife to our respective jobs.  We have two SUVs: a 2009 Escape that we drive regularly, and a 2003 Explorer Sport.  Feeding those beasties is not a cheap prospect.  In fact, it is the main reason I bought a motorcycle that gets 50 miles to the gallon.  Michelle had been working as a teacher and her school was in the opposite direction from my office, but then she changed jobs to one close enough to carpool.  It saved gas and wear and tear on the bike.  Both the Sport and the bike have had an extended vacation this past year while we have car pooled.  Now that Michelle has a new job as a school librarian (Yay Honey!), it means our carpooling days are over and I will once again be riding the Shadow through the HOV/managed lanes to the office.  Except when it rains.  Like it has done a lot lately.  Cold rain.  Freezing rain.  Weather not fit for a motorcycle.  At least not one ridden by a sane person.

So, on Monday, I had to take the Sport for the first time in a long while.

It protested.

It didn’t want to move.  It didn’t even want to wake up.  If it could have, I’m sure it would have groaned, grabbed the covers and rolled over with a “just give me a half an hour more sleep!”

Dead Batteries

I put the key in the ignition and turned.  The dashboard lights lit up, the radio came to life, but when I turned the key, the starter ignored me.  It didn’t even go “wrrr wrrr wrrr” or “buzzz clacka clacka.”  Nothing.  I figure, ok, I’ll just pop the clutch.  The battery has been sitting for a while; perhaps it just needs a refresher charge.  I put the car in gear, release the parking brake and let it roll down the incline then pop the clutch.  “Snap, stop.”  No joy.  It didn’t even catch a spark.  At this point I’m worried that something serious might be wrong, since I have pop-started it before.  Being the troubleshooter I am, I grab the jumper cables from the Escape and hook them up.  Again, no grind, no turning, no nothing.  This car just didn’t want to go anywhere.  I got my tools and did a battery transplant from the Escape to the Sport, certain that this last-ditch effort would similarly be in vain.  Surprise surprise, it turned over.

Time for a trip to the parts store for a new battery, which, of course, I procrastinate until Sunday.  I knew the storm is supposed to hit Monday, so I would have to have it running in time to go to work Monday morning.  Fortunately, the parts store down the road had the battery in stock and I got it installed and it started right up.  I figure I’m good to go.  No need to worry that the inspection sticker had expired three months ago during the time it sat battery-killing idle.

So, Monday morning, I got in the car and drove to work.  In traffic.  Well, to be accurate, I sat in traffic that bore an amazing resemblance to a parking lot.  I have not missed this.  When I was carpooling, we would just zip right on by in the HOV lane, just like I did on the bike.  But all alone in the SUV, I must trudge along with the masses, stopping and going and wearing out my clutch (and my clutch leg) cursing Houston traffic as I spy motorcycles zipping along in the HOV.  It had not started raining yet and I was telling myself that I would appreciate the commute when the rain starts.  I have been caught on the bike by a storm; it is a painful experience I wouldn’t wish on my enemies.  Well, maybe my enemies, but no one else.  Except maybe politicians.

After what seemed like a year and a half, I finally got to work (seriously, I had not had to drive the main lanes in like two years) and when it hadn’t started raining by lunch, I was cussing my luck, certain that I had wasted a chance to ride the bike and sat through an hour of traffic for nothing.  Fortunately, it did start raining and raining hard.  It kept it up as I left the office and all the way home.  So even though I had to wade through the main lanes going home, at least I didn’t get soaked.  I even managed to get the vehicle inspected.

Flash forward one week.  Wednesday morning, I’m about to mount my bike to go to work when Michelle called me to tell me that the Escape was at a gas station and wouldn’t start.  I drove the Sport down to the station while Michelle had a coworker pick her up to go to work.  The Escape was sitting where she left it at the pump.  I got in and put the key in and listened to the alarm pinging before turning the key.  It gave a wrrrrr wrrrrrr clackity clackity click click. 

Typical sounds of a dying battery.  I hooked up the jumper cables that failed me last week, and they worked this time.  I drove the car to the side of the building and told the station manager that I’d be back in the afternoon to pick up the car, while silently cussing to myself.  This meant another trip to get another battery.  Two batteries in a week.  At $140 each, these batteries are not cheap.  What a way to eat into the tax refund that I haven’t gotten yet.

I did find out that car batteries are supposed to last three to five years.  The Sport’s battery was bought in ’06, so it was 7 and the Escape’s was the original from ’09 so it was 5.  I figure they lasted pretty good, but that they went within a week of each other reminds me of those old couples that can’t survive without their spouse.

So now we both have vehicles with reliable batteries.  I can now trust that if I need to take the Sport, it is ready.  At least the weather is supposed to be fantastic the rest of this week, so I can ride my bike and avoid everyone in the main lanes, provided the Shadow’s battery doesn’t give out (knock on wood).

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Lifestyle or Cliché or Something Else

The rumble is felt before it is heard and it is usually heard before the source of the sound is seen. The rumble becomes a roar as the machine passes by on the road. The image evokes a response in most people that varies from disgust to envy. One reason is that a motorcycle is not just a motorcycle, it’s a symbol. There is a lifestyle associated with a two-wheeled rumbler and that lifestyle says something about not only the riders, but also anyone who regards them.

I spent little time considering motorcycles for most of my life. I know people who like the “biker” persona and all that goes with it. The lifestyle, the fashion, the accessories and the community are as much a part of their lives as their family or career. I never found the fashion all that appealing—a Harley-Davidson logo emblazoned on the back of a leather or denim jacket just doesn’t do it for me, nor does studded leather or fringe or chrome skulls. I recently bought a motorcycle; which is not to say that my tastes have changed. Fortunately, I have found that many motorcycle riders do not live the “lifestyle,” and yet still enjoy their bikes just as much as those who embody the cliché.

Big Bad Biker Dude

I guess most of us call to mind the stereotypical biker: big guy wearing faded, worn and torn jeans, boots, leather jacket or vest with studs and fringe, gloss black half-helmet with a chrome spike worn over a red-white and blue bandana, tattoos covering both arms, sun-weathered skin that looks like aged leather and sporting a beard or goatee. This person rides a big Harley with exhaust pipes that make the bike sound like a 50 caliber machine gun firing downrange when he accelerates, only louder. He drinks more beer in a day than most people do in a year. He is standing next to a woman who is similarly worn looking, but wearing remarkably less clothes and preferring to go unfettered.

Big Bad Biker Gramps (not training wheels)

After spending 3 weeks in Leesburg, Florida, a town that has more motorcycles per capita than any other town I have experienced, and preparing to play host to a major bikefest, I have made some observations about this 2-wheeled crowd. First, they’re not all two-wheeled. There are some motorized vehicles with three wheels and some two-wheeled with an extra two wheels added like outriggers. Kind of like training wheels. Chrome highlighted, full-sized, customized training wheels. Of course, we can’t call them training wheels…it is “the Voyager kit,” a very expensive addition. Tell a biker with a Voyager that he has training wheels and the cliché may rain down on your head.

Secondly, not all bikers wear leather; studded or otherwise. Some ride in slacks and a tie. Their bikes may have hard shell saddle bags and or a trunk and typically a less flashy paint job, but still with plenty of chrome. Not all bikers have tattoos. Most do, but not all. Many bikers don’t even look like bikers at all—even when they are on their bikes. Some bikers always have a passenger (usually a wife/girlfriend) and never ride alone. Some only ride alone; their bikes have no rear seat. Some see the motorcycle as an art form and have covered their bikes with some simply stunning paintjobs that would do well on a gallery wall.

Leesburg Bikeweek

I met some people during my time in Leesburg, Florida who call themselves bikers. One fellow was a physician who rode his Honda Goldwing from Fort Myers Florida to Leesburg for the fest. He was in his fifties (most of the bikers—stereotypical or not—are over 40) and grimacing from a backache. He wore banana republic style cargo shorts and an OP t-shirt and docksiders. His graying hair was windshwept, but not disheveled. He told me he has ridden for more than 30 years. His backache was not because of the ride—the Goldwing is one of the more smooth rides one can experience on a motorcycle—but rather from an old injury that flares up when sitting too long.

I also saw several people checking into the hotel as I checked out who were also arriving for the Bikefest. Motorcycles filled the parking lot that had, for the past three weeks, been filled primarily with cars. More people were in the lobby and around the pool than I had seen during my stay up to that point. Sun-weathered skin, tattoos, windswept hair (disheveled) wearing a sleeveless shirt and cutoff shorts; looking every bit the cliché biker dude. After I checked out, I walked the festival grounds and stuck my head in the vendor booths to see what bikers buy. Most of the booths were “biker chic” apparel consisting of tight t-shirts, sleeveless denim shirts, slotted spandex pants, super short shorts, and loads of patches. There were plenty of iron crosses, chains and skulls. Also, as one might imagine, enough leather to cover all the cows in Texas.

They also sell accessories for the bikes. Chrome trim, LED light kits, custom painting, saddle bags and leather tassels are aplenty in these booths. Bikes rumbled up and down the streets—which had been closed off to automobile traffic—stopping at whichever booth the rider fancied. They even did the paint jobs while the owners waited. Other booths added trim or modified something. I understand from talking to a couple of the vendors that Harley riders tend to always work on their bikes, upgrading this or modifying that. I would have to say that 80 percent of the bikes in town were Harleys.

As I left the fest, it occurred to me that while the vendors do sell the cliché, the lifestyle, no one has to buy into it to be included. Everyone who rides is a “brother,” and anyone on a bike gets acknowledged by other riders on the road. So, while there were plenty of people in town that live up to the cliché, fully ensconced in the lifestyle, many bike enthusiasts opt to enjoy the thrill of riding without the need to embrace skulls, chains, studded leather or fringes. It is this crowd with whom I more readily identify, although I did buy a leather vest…sans studs.

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Heck’s Angels Revisited

The weekend offered almost every sort of weather possible except snow, and it was almost cold enough for that for about 2 hours. It was cold, it was wet, it was windy, it was sunny and it got hot. It seemed particularly apropos for the activity of the weekend as the weather will always be a factor when it comes to riding motorcycles. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog wherein I said I was thinking about getting a motorcycle to combat rising gas prices. I also said I probably would not get one, but let’s save that for later.

In order to fully and fairly consider the idea, I needed to see if I could ride a motorcycle. In order to do that, I needed access to one. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers two motorcycle riding courses: one for beginners (like me) and one for experts (like me after my training, I was certain). I paid the exorbitant tuition (175 bucks less a $20 discount) and scheduled the class for the weekend. They required that I wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket and gloves and boots. The class began at 7 am and lasted until 5 pm for both Saturday and Sunday. Yeesh! So much for a relaxing weekend.

7 am came early that Saturday and it did not find me at the classroom. Fortunately, I was only 10 minutes late and the class had not started yet. 6 other students had shown up that early morning and only one of us had any real experience on a bike with a motor. The young fellow was supposedly well practiced on motocross dirt bikes, but wanted to learn street. One woman had ridden on the back of her husband’s motorcycle for years and, as he was getting a new one and wanted to give her the old one, she figured she should learn how to operate it. Another woman had always loved bikes, but never owned one so her husband gave her the class as a birthday present to see if she really wanted one of her own. One guy had just bought a bike to ship to London and was taking the class to learn how to ride it when he got there.

The instructor had us teach ourselves the material in the books (a tried and true method of adult education) and then watch the videos before taking us out to the parking lot. The program had several motorcycles and helmets for students to use. Makes sense though, if you’re just learning how to ride, you probably don’t have a motorcycle license yet, which means you probably don’t own a bike yet. Good plan. The bikes were small. 125cc Kawasaki Eliminators. My large frame looked a little comical sitting astride one. They were also more than a little banged up, as one can imagine from repeated classes of motorcycle novices who probably dropped them or rode them into each other on several occasions. But they did work, even if they looked like refugees from the scrap yard.

We started by pushing the bike around with the engine off. It was quite windy and threatened to blow us over. By the time the instructor let us actually engage the throttle, the wind had died down and the sun had come out, which began to get quite warm so riding helped keep the wind moving. We rode for the rest of the day with the sun shining on clear blue skies, practicing taking off from stopped, slow maneuvering, slalom and stopping. When we finished riding that first day, I had made up my mind. I was going to get a motorcycle.

I also sunburned my nose.

The second day, the weather was less volatile but started out cold before turning quite warm in the afternoon. We watched more videos and finished the book material before taking the written, multiple-choice test. Then we went outside to finish the practical exercises before taking the riding test. It was sunny, clear and—as the day progressed—hot. I felt my face getting burned, but I had no sunscreen. Fortunately, the outfit they required us to wear prevented any more of a sunburn.

This day we were finally able to get the bikes up to a speed above snail. At the end of the day, I was still convinced that I wanted a motorcycle. When I got home that evening, my wife noticed my face and told me to look in the mirror. As I was wearing sunglasses for the entire day, my face bore a striking resemblance to a raccoon—or at least a red raccoon with a white mask, anyway. I drew a lot of attention at work the next day.

I said previously that I didn’t think I would actually get one unless I had a midlife crisis, but after riding one all weekend, I did decide to do it. I spent quite some time pouring over Craigslist and Motorcycle trader not to mention looking at several dealers around town before finding one.

The following Friday, I bought my first motorcycle: a 2005 Honda Shadow Aero. I opted for a used bike because—even though I aspired to be an expert by the time I finished my basic riding course, I knew I didn’t want to spend the money on a new bike—just in case I was not the expert I hoped to be. I have put about 70 miles on it so far and the more I ride it, the more confident I become. I am counting on this bike getting me to and from work in the HOV lane, so I am glad I took that course. Of course, if the weather pulls any tricks, I will probably opt to drive my Explorer Sport. As much as I like riding my bike, I don’t relish the idea of riding it wet.

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Heck’s Angels

While driving back to work from lunch with a coworker today, we were commiserating about the price of gas and ways of trying to save money. One of the invariable suggestions to maximize the gas dollar is the highly fuel-efficient option of the motorcycle. My coworker has been riding for years and is a proud owner of a Honda complete with ape-hangers and several bells and whistles and he is a member of a riding club that requires he wear the “colors” when he rides. He was very enthusiastic about the suggested prospect of my getting a motorcycle.

I am not unfamiliar with motorcycles. While it is true that I have never owned one, I have had occasion to ride one or two over the years. The first motorized bicycle I wanted was a Moped, but my mother wouldn’t allow it. Perhaps she feared I would end up splattered across the grill of some car or truck, or perhaps I would become too familiar with the effect pavement has on contacted flesh at 20 mph. Either way, my repeated entreating for a moped fell on deaf ears (well not deaf…that woman could hear me mumble my responses from a mile away with alarming clarity). It may have had something to do with my older sister getting injured while riding a friend’s scooter. I don’t even remember ever getting to ride one as none of my friends mom’s allowed them to get one either. Perhaps it was a great mother conspiracy to deny my peer group access to this form of transportation. Come to think of it, I couldn’t get a jet ski when they came out either. Definitely a conspiracy.

I have had friends with bikes. Kevin had a Kawasaki dirt bike, but he didn’t let me ride it. This was probably a wise decision, since I can be reasonably certain if I had, I’d probably have tried to merge the bike with a tree trunk. I had a roommate once—another friend named Kevin—who had a little motorcycle; I don’t remember which make but the thing would do good to hit 60 miles an hour. It was on this little thing that I actually learned how to ride.

Kevin and I worked at Astroworld on the train; he was an engineer and I was the conductor. I was at that age in youth where one tries everything in the world to establish independence by moving out of the parent’s house; even if doing so would be cost prohibitive. So, when Kevin, who was living in San Antonio and commuting to Astroworld, suggested we split an apartment, I was all for it. He drove a car but he also had this little motorcycle. One day, he needed me to drive his car to pick up the motorcycle from the shop and then drive the car to work while he rode the bike to work. We got halfway to work when he pulled over and, after turning around to see why he stopped, he told me that the bike needed to go back to the shop for a minor adjustment. The problem was that he would be late to work if he did it himself, so he asked me if I could ride the bike back to the shop.

Now, I had never told him I didn’t know how to ride. Of course, in my defense, I never told him I did either. So, did I confess my lack of experience here? Heck no. I was 19. Nothing can hurt me. I can do anything. I’m Superman. So, he got in his car and took off. I mounted the bike and, after a moment of silence, I had a conversation with the machine. I told the machine that if it didn’t kill me or break, I wouldn’t wreck it. I guess it took me at my word, since I was able, after only two false starts, I was moving.

I had already learned the concept of a clutch with my parent’s pinto, so believe it or not, that wasn’t the hardest concept to master in riding. The challenge was not the throttle. It was not the brakes. The biggest challenge I had was keeping the dern fool thing upright when stopped. If you lean even the slightest amount to one side or the other, that machine wants to lie down. But, it was a concept easily conquered and soon enough I was wheeling my way through the streets back to the shop, where they did whatever it was they needed to do. They could have told me the flux capacitor was out of alignment and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

Kevin was nice enough to let me borrow the bike from time to time as my 64 Buick Le Sabre had a particularly ravenous appetite and I couldn’t afford to feed it as often as it would have liked. I took his bike over to my girlfriend’s house once, which routed me along IH610—the south loop in Houston. This machine couldn’t go above 65 MPH going downhill with a tailwind and I was taking it on the freeway. Cars go whizzing past and I have nothing between them and me but a windbreaker. That was a disconcerting feeling: going that fast without a car around me. I don’t know if it is something I can get used to.

Sad thing about that trip, though. Going from her house back to my parents, I ran out of gas. I rode FM 2100 on the east side of lake Houston when I ran out and had to push the bike all the way to Atascocita. That’s about 12-15 miles at 10 pm. Well, I did have a good Samaritan stop and give me about a half gallon of gas which got me most of the way, but I did push it from Huffman to Atascocita.

Anyway, the only other time I got to ride a bike was when a recruiter bought a Honda Goldwing and he was showing it off at the recruiting station where I was working. He let me ride it around the parking lot only after I swore I had ridden a bike before. I had. I didn’t tell him it was only a half-step over a moped, but he didn’t ask.

So, will I get a motorcycle? Unlikely. As romantic the notion may sound and as good as the gas mileage is I doubt it is much fun in inclement weather. Also, there is an inherent risk with other drivers not noticing or appreciating motorcycles. Besides, I don’t think I can get used to that feeling of being exposed on the freeway at high speeds. Now, if you see me on a hog hanging onto ape-hangers in the near future, keep in mind my mid-life crisis is due at any moment and anything goes then.

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