The APEX…

pronounced “ā-peks” – the narrowed or pointed end, the culminating point, the point that is closest to the inside but not necessarily the center of the corner.

This is where the Dude gets to the point…ZEN from the saddle…what’s copacetic and what’s not…his rants and opinions – and a place to share yours…the inside – but not necessarily the center…goin’ in deep and comin’ out hard – let’s hit it!

On Any Sunday…

“Four Million people ride motorcycles in the US – they come in all shapes, sizes, and ages” – Bruce Brown, 1971 “On Any Sunday”
When was the last time you watched it? The title itself implies a constant presences, a kind of reassurance that this activity is here to stay. That number has grown significantly over the years. However these days there seems to be a lot of press regarding the diminishing motorcycling population, many of these stories predicting the end of motorcycling is on the horizon. But is it really?..and if so, what should we do about it? Like any motorcyclist, I want to keep this activity and lifestyle alive and well – and I have always shared my adventures and enthusiasm with any willing soul. As a professional who makes his career in the motorcycle industry, I may fixate on these questions a little more than the typical enthusiast.

A good example of this occurred over the weekend when I was at a memorial for a fellow motorcyclist, an elder of the sport with many motorcycling friends. As I looked around at the gathering I recognized many fellow riders (strange how you can just “tell” if someone rides, isn’t?) and as I noted their approximate ages it seemed a graphic example of the “retiring” motorcycle demographic. I thought to myself, what inspired these people to become motorcyclist? What inspired me? What will inspire the next generations? Then some music started playing, as it often does at a memorial, but this was special – it was introduced as one of the departed favorites, it was the theme from On Any Sunday. There was an audible stir from the crowd and a lot of smiles.
Now I realize many of the people at that gathering were hardcore racers and enthusiast decades before the Bruce Brown moto classic was released, but clearly it impacted their generation just as it did mine – as well as generations decades after the film was released. So that got me thinking…does the Industry need a new On Any Sunday?

Maybe. I’ve read many statistics regarding annual sales and demographics. I’ve followed the invaluable grass-roots research of the Give-A-Shift movement (great work Robert Pandya). Though it is clear annual motorcycle sales in the US are less than half what they were 10 years ago, the reasons for this are not so clear. It’s difficult to know which statistics are relevant to which markets, and the demographics for each market factor heavily into the equation as well. Many of the sources reporting these statistics will state that sales are “flat” at the very least. Looking back 30 or more years, one could easily argue US motorcycle sales are cyclic, and though it has been much higher it has also been lower.

I see a clear variance in perspective dependent upon what the source quoting the statistics considers the “Motorcycle Industry” to consist of. Some of the motorcycle manufacturers are reporting sales are up – even with one of the two major American brands. I believe the success of those brands lies in their product diversification – they’ve not forgotten motorcyclist “come in all shapes, sizes, and ages”. If you’re selling ice cream, you’ll have more customers if you offer many flavors rather than 34 variations of “Milwaukee” Vanilla.

But I digress, so last Sunday (ironically) I decided to watch On Any Sunday like I’d never watched I before – this time I was going to analyze it, I was going to think about why it inspired me so, why it has inspired so many others, and what was the “formula” that made it such a classic. I thought perhaps if such a formula could be applied today, a new wave of motorcycling popularity may be initiated. Lofty ideals perhaps, but not completely unreasonable. Now, I know there was a sequel in 1982 – and I won’t go too far into that other than to say I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say “I sure would like to watch On Any Sunday II – I haven’t seen it for awhile, and it really inspired me”. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, it’s just completely different. So as I watched On Any Sunday, with my analytical mind in gear, I made the following observations.

When I first saw this in the theater (I know I’m dating myself) I was youngster who was a proud owner of my very own little motorcycle, my Uncle (who took me to see the movie) rode, as did my Grandfather, my two Great Uncles, and my Great Aunt. I remember watching this movie and feeling part of a large and diverse group who all “got it” – what it felt like to ride. I wanted to share the experience – with riders and non-riders alike. I think that’s a big part of what made the film the most important motorcycle documentary of all time, it made the experience accessible to everyone. I wanted to share this film with my Mother, who was not a fan of motorcycles but I thought if she saw it maybe she’d understand (and one day when I finally got her to watch it, I think she genuinely understood). So 47 years later, as I continued watching and thinking about what was unique about this motorcycle movie, it became clear to me that all the motorcycle films that came afterward were targeted directly at the motorcycling population – they had more intense footage, and more extreme riding, and they appealed to the targeted demographic – but they weren’t films you wanted to share with your Mother. Those who didn’t ride weren’t interested in those later films. To the best of my knowledge, none of them were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature as On Any Sunday was in 1972.

Perhaps it was the timing. Maybe it was seeing so many aspects of motorcycling compressed into a span ninety six minutes. Then there was the unique perspective and narration of a genius Surf Film creator – which in itself may have been what made the film more accessible to riders who didn’t know they were riders yet. Maybe at the core of it all, it was just the way the film told the stories of the people…from kids imitating motocross racers on their bikes (introducing the World to BMX), to the national and international champions, to Mike Gibbon from Grants Pass, Oregon putting the first tire tack on top of the Widowmaker. These stories reached out to so many – and still do. So do I think the Motorcycle Industry would benefit from another “On Any Sunday” sort of movie? Without a doubt. Imagine a modern version showing the diverse ways motorcyclist indulge in their passion, presented in an accessible non-menacing fashion that even your Mother would sit through…and think about how many new riders may decide to give it try with a closing line like…

“There’s something about going riding with your friends, a feeling of freedom, a feeling of joy, that really can’t be put into words…it can only be fully shared by someone who’s done it”

Makes me want to go out and ride one of my bikes right now – how about you?

legends…

So I had the pleasure of attending the 73rd annual Trailblazers banquet over the weekend, an event that brings together a virtual who’s-who in motorcycling and honors those who have made legendary contributions to the motorcycling lifestyle. Along with the ceremonies, great food & drink, and the annual Hall of Fame inductions there’s a bike show like no other where the legends in motorcycling bring out their prized machines and compete for bragging rights as “best in show” at this prestigious event. For those who have attended this event, the best way I can describe the experience is sensory overload. Here are few highlights…
The Tom Cates Memorial Bike Show…70 of the most iconic machines in the motorcycle world – each with a VERY unique story and history.

How often have you seen a Wankel powered Hercules?…

…almost makes it’s Norton cousin seem “common” (okay, not really).

Nice old iron-head Sportie…

Beautiful Triumph X-75 Hurricane co-designed by Craig Vetter…one of my favorite motorcycles.

Racing legends everywhere you look – here we see Larry Langely talking story with “Fast” Eddie Mulder…

Yet another beautiful vintage XL
BSA Gold Star….you can almost hear it.

Nice relatively contemporary Classic – 1982 Kawasaki GPz750

Norton Commando…always wanted one – haven’t had one…yet.

The infamous Joe Bonnello happily posing for a quick photo – as Larry Langley “photo-bombs” the otherwise happy moment.

There were several Flat Track and TT racing machines – each with their own place in history.

Speaking of Maicos…. Old Maico Riders tend to converge at such events…here, I discuss bad decisions and jetting with Super Hunky. Conversation went something like this: Me: Hi Rick, I’m a big fan – you’ve been my literary hero for most of my life! Rick: Oh God – you didn’t actually buy into any of it did you?…did you ever buy a Maico? Me: Yes – Alpha 490. Still have it. Rick: Sit down, we need to talk.

Roadracing was represented as well – how about Dick Mann’s BSA?…

This was my favorite in show 1971 Yamaha JT1 – who else started out on one o these?…

…turned out the owner of that little JT1 was none other than my friend Moto Film Producer/Director Todd Huffman. His Dad Larry “Motor-mouth” Huffman was in attendance as well.

There were a few that brought back vivid memories…

Ran into Moto Film Director/Producer legend Peter Starr. He discussed his latest project with me. We also discussed his long term field testing of the shock I tuned for him on his V-Strom.

…and speaking of unique English imports – there was this beast!

And the American innovators brought out their iron as well!

…and of course a few pseudo-American classics (Spaghetti-Westerns shall we say)…
Some bikes tell their story at a glance…

Here I am with Trailblazer Hall of Fame inductee Norm McDonald…we go back some 30 years. Truly a motorsport legend in so many ways. As co-founder of K&N Engineering he has helped countless racers in all aspects of motor racing. K&N cycles was the first US importer and distributor of Yamaha motorcycles. At that shop, he hired a young racer named Malcolm Smith and sat him on a path to a legendary career of his own. As a Racer, Norm was a hole-shot master. My favorite quote from the evening was when Malcolm told the story of Norm’s hole-shot skills, Malcolm said “So I asked Norm how he always got the hole-shot and Norm said “I start the starter – don’t wait for the flag to drop, make him drop it””

The show was awesome, and the crowd even more so – the stories…the bench-racing…the memories…all epic.

But it was time to make our way into the Banquet hall for the ceremonies. There were 75 tables at the sold out event – each with one or more racing & industry legend sitting at it. The MC duties were shared by Don Emde and Keith Mashburn, with some help from Tom White. I didn’t take many pictures during the proceedings as it not only didn’t seem appropriate, there were professional pictures being taken. So I’m betting you can find those on the Trailblazers website (link at beginning of the story). All I can say is if you’re a motorcyclist and you have an opportunity to attend this event – DO IT!

Group picture of all the Trailblazer Hall of Famers in attendance…

…while the ceremonious commenced inside, the mechanical Hall of Famers held court in the courtyard….if you listen closely you can hear the tales of GLORY…

CHOICES…

It’s always upsetting to hear a fellow motorcyclist has lost their life while riding….more so when it’s a co-worker, friend, or family member. Friday morning – leading into the long Fourth of July weekend – I got the interoffice email from the President of the company with the subject line “Tragic News”…co-worker, fellow rider, and friend Jim Hogg had lost his life commuting to work earlier that morning. In the 45+ years I’ve been riding motorcycles, I’ve lost a few friends to riding accidents. I never get used to it, each time is different and they seem to all somehow accumulate in my soul changing my motorcycling perspective and the reasons I ride.

Motorcycles are dangerous, I get it. Such events drive this point home and make one seriously evaluate their passion for riding. It’s an extremely unpleasant mental process of questioning something in your life that brings you tremendous joy – yet may lead to your demise. The longer you’ve ridden the more likely you are to have multiple similar tragic stories in mind that all weigh in on the subject. For some, such an event would result in ceasing to ever ride again and I completely understand that. Sometimes these people become a little fanatical about trying to convince everyone they see with a helmet in their hand about the pending death that awaits them if they continue to ride. They mean well. Others try to stuff the event deep down and pretend it didn’t happen. I understand this as well, the riding means so much to them that they simply don’t want to examine the potential downfalls – often rationalizing the tragedy saying things like “They died doing what they loved” (this rarely applies…I don’t think Jim loved commuting to work on a crowded freeway). Still others look for reasons…how did this happen?…what could’ve been done (or avoided) that may have prevented this tragedy?…what can be learned from this?

I guess I mostly fall under that last category, I find myself wanting to know what happened. In this particular case, the questions are many and for the most part unanswered. See, according to the news story the police received a few calls reporting “a motorcycle down” on the side of the road at about 7:30am – and that’s it. They arrived on the scene to find Jim’s lifeless body near the crashed Dynaglide he was riding to work. Now, this is alongside of one of Southern California’s busiest 4-5 lane freeways during “rush-hour” traffic. That’s the first question that keeps going through my mind, of the hundreds – perhaps thousands who drove by – why didn’t anyone stop? Surely someone saw what happened and just continued driving. Even if they didn’t see it happen, here’s another human being lying on the side of a road – why didn’t any of them choose to stop and see if there was anything that could be done? Then there’s the actual mechanics or physics of the accident. Was there another vehicle involved, perhaps a road-rage situation of some sort? If so, this could mean a homicide was ultimately committed. Or was Jim simply speeding and traffic stacked up, as it often does in this area, and he swerved off the road losing control? Was there some sort of mechanical malfunction (not likely, Jim was a professional)? Maybe he had a freak heart attack or something and was gone before he ever hit the ground?

A CHP officer looks closely at a Harley-Davidson motorcycle after it’s rider died Friday morning in Anaheim.

CHP officers assist an OC Sheriff’s coroner during his examination Friday morning in Anaheim.
The answers to these and many others that keep bouncing around my head will likely never be answered. It seems that sadly there is a sort of bias towards motorcycle related injuries or fatalities at times. It’s as if people (who don’t ride) are too quick to jump to the simple conclusion “well, motorcycles are dangerous and that’s what happens”. Perhaps that’s what all those drivers thought to themselves as they chose to drive by Jim lying on the side of the road that morning. It reminds me of the line from the Rocky Horror Picture show when the motorcyclists ride by Brad & Janet, Brad says “-life’s pretty cheap for that type”. Those of us who ride know better. If anything we appreciate life more than most. We know it’s a fragile and precious commodity not to be wasted. Maybe that’s a big part of why we ride, and why we continue to ride. For me personally, I think it’s a balance…I have no illusions that it could never happen to me, but I also know what riding means to my soul. It’s not about fear verses thrill; it’s far more than that. It’s about understanding the risks and choosing ride in spite of them because of how riding enhances your life. I truly hate losing a friend and I know riding motorcycles is dangerous…but so is a life not lived to its fullest. I choose to keep riding.

Godspeed Jim…you left us too soon Brother.

All About the Ride…

“To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.”
 ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

 It was time for another real ride. The days had started blur together as they sometimes do, and the never ending list of life’s tasks were beginning to overwhelm. You know the feeling. On top of that, my birthday was coming up – a perfect excuse to chase the horizon for a couple days…clear the head…hit the “reset” button. I wasn’t running away from or giving up on life’s goals and responsibilities, I was purely formulating a brief strategic retreat to regroup my thoughts and refocus my perspective.​


I needed a good ride. Not that I can recall ever having any really “bad” rides, even the ones that don’t go as planned or go horribly wrong still tend to have their merit in my experience – at the very least they make for good stories. This needed to be a ride of epic proportions full of soul resurrecting sights and sensations. I have ridden up to the legendary Laguna Seca race track for various events on my birthday rides in the past and it’s always been great, so that was my original plan. But then I decided to focus more on the ride. I don’t care for travel on freeways or roads that remain straight for more than a mile for that matter, so I began plotting a route that avoided such thoroughfares. Sure, this would double the travel time – and that was the intent. As I planned the route out, I began to realize that I was trying too hard to “schedule” my time around specific destinations and events. So I decided not to go to any races at `Seca this trip which seemed to completely open up a whole series of possibilities. I then realized that from Monterey I could ride up into Yosemite of which I’d never ridden through before. So I figured I’d take three or four days and take very indirect back-roads up through Southern California and the Coast – through Big Sur to Monterey for day one. Day two head up into Yosemite staying there for a day. Then East out to Mono Lake and hang a right south down across the back of the Sierras and home, possibly stopping somewhere along the way pensive on if I felt like it. I plotted it all out on Goggle Maps and it was looking epic.

I invited a few different riding companions but none were able to make it, so it was to be a solo ride. I was so excited about the ride I shared my planned route on social media. This resulted in friends along the route inviting me to come visit them – making the whole thing even better! As the weekend approached, one of those friends pointed out that the Tioga Pass through Yosemite had not yet been cleared of the season’s snow pack and thus was not open. So a little re-routing was required, and my southern return ride would be on the west side of the Sierras. Though was looking forward to riding east all the way through Yosemite, it was still going to be great ride – and gave me another ride to look forward to when it does open. I had a route that was comprised of at least 80% winding scenic back-roads and friends to visit with along the way. This was looking like it was going to be a good one.

So I awoke on the first day – my birthday – and threw my riding gear on, swung a leg over the pre-loaded and fueled bike, fired it up and headed straight to the nearest Denny’s on the route for my free birthday “Grand Slam” breakfast…and worth every penny. I’d like to say this was at the crack of dawn, and I had plenty of daylight ahead of me. The reality was I had been up late the night before and thus decided to sleep in a bit. Also, the part about the bike being pre-loaded with all my intended gear wasn’t quite true either…truth is I was still packing my bags when I got up, hadn’t printed out my maps, charged up my Bluetooth device and swamped it over into the helmet I was going to use, cleaned the visors for said helmet…and the list went on in a series of pre-coffee epiphanies. I did fuel the bike though, and even topped off and attached my reserve tank (FZ-09’s have small tanks). So by the time I left Denny’s and really got on the road, it was about 10:30am – half the day gone. I thought to myself “Hey, there’s no schedule involved here – just enjoy the ride”. That became an unintended theme as weekend progressed. I figured I could make the time up somewhere along the line and besides, what difference did it make if I ended up riding in the dark and arriving at my first nights stop a little late? I needed to try out some new LED road lights anyway. Off I went.

Now, I realize there’s all sorts of navigation devices appropriate for traveling by motorcycle – and I even own a couple. Thing is on a ride such as this I kind of like to employ a method involving a bit more random precision. When not taking the most direct or efficient route I don’t want to be told when and where to turn by some robotic voice – and when I get a bit off course because the mood strikes me to do so (which has often lead to finding awesome roads & places), I do not want to hear “rerouting” followed by more directions. Is this a flaw in my character? Perhaps it is, but on a ride such as this I prefer to look at my map, figure out where I am, see where I plan to stop and look at my map again, kind of visualize my route, and hit it. Does that result in wrong turns, getting lost, burning time?…I hope so – because that’s part of a good ride for me.

So I made my way north across the southeastern edge of the Los Padres Forrest and west over to Gorman, then out through Frazer Park on Hudson Ranch road over to the 58 and out to the Highway 1 near Cambria. This took several hours, as there were many blissful wrong turns and a few “I wonder what’s down this way” adventures – all great stuff.

The 58 is an epic bit of road.

My plan was to stop for lunch in Cambria and have a bowl clam chowder at one of my favorite places on the beach, but I arrived there late in the afternoon and decided to fuel up and just have a snack bar then be on my way. The bike had been handing strangely and I was checking it out as I sat on Moonstone Beach munching my food bar. Then I discovered the issue – my rear tire had disintegrated and was losing air.

Quick stop on Moonstone Beach for a snack and to check the Road Piranha…found the rear tire was done.

It felt like I’d been riding on a near flat tire because I had! The closest new tire was 100 miles north in Monterey, so I bought a can of flat-fix, a patch kit, aired the tire up, and headed up PCH into the sunset.

Normally, this is the best part of the ride – the 100 miles scenic ocean cliffs through San Simeon, Big Sur, Carmel, and up into Monterey. However if it’s cold, windy, wet, foggy, and dark then it’s rather intense on a motorcycle. If that motorcycle has a bad rear tire…well, let’s say I was extremely focused on successfully getting to Monterey. I don’t typically experience arm-pump cramping on street rides, but any time the bike would lose a little traction from the damp road I’d tense up and worry that the tire had blown. The best part was the new road lights really helped a lot, lighting up the road sides and surface nicely without blinding the occasional oncoming motorist. Riding at night through big dense forests like that of Big Sur is eerie and the constant thought of a deer or something springing out in front of you is unnerving to say the least. I can honestly say it seemed like one of the longest 100 miles I’d ever ridden, but arrive at Monterey I did and only a little after 10:30pm – just in time for supper. I checked into my palatial accommodations for the night, had a hot meal and a nightcap, and after a full 12 hours in the saddle I was out like a light.

The next morning I awoke to a very flat rear tire, and my friend Troy knocking on the door. He’d ridden down from Santa Cruz to meet me for breakfast and then possibly ride along with me for a ways as I continued my adventure. As it turned out, we spent the morning getting the expired tire to hold air long enough to get into town so I could procure a replacement. I found one at the local dealership – Monterey Peninsula Power Sports – but apparently walking in on a Saturday morning to get a tire replaced was “unrealistic” to this Ducati franchise – as the service writer merely chuckled and said “you may leave it with us and come back on Tuesday when it’s done”. My buddy Troy was already on the horn tracking down another local shop that could help me out. That turned out to be “Bill’s Custom Monterey” Motorcycles just a few blocks up the street. The multi-European brand stealership staff where we were at advised us that Bill’s was an “American V-Twin” oriented shop, and thus may not prove very helpful. Bill answered the phone himself and said “Come on over and I’ll take care of you!”

After my buddy Troy attempted to get air into the Piranha’s rear tire for a while, I emptied a can of flat-fix into it and we went in search of a tire.
It’s a rarity these days, but every now and then you come across a special place – a REAL motorcycle shop. This is what Bill’s Custom’ is, a good old fashion motorcycle shop. Sure there was the cliché sign or two proclaiming “American Motorcycles Only” but that’s not what Bill’s was about – it was about the soul of motorcycles and those who ride them. Our intent was to drop the bike and the new tire off, go have breakfast, then come back and settle up. As we rode up, me on my Yamaha FZ-09 and Troy on his Suzuki DL1000, Bill met us at the door asking “So you want me to change a tire on…what the Hell is that?” I attempted to inquire about what he’d charge me and how long it would take, but I quickly realized this wasn’t that type of shop and Bill wasn’t that kind of guy. Bill wanted to get to know us. I explained that Troy and I were motorcycle suspension engineers – I for Progressive Suspension, Troy for Fox – to which Bill replied “Ah, see we may be able to help each other out…I’ve got these 440 shocks that need replacing…”. As I walked into his shop I realized both he and his shop were special. Bill’s showroom was filled with all kinds of bikes ranging from a pristine VFR1000 to a fire breathing turbo-Dyna to a beautiful 71 BSA, and there was something interesting to look at in every nook and cranny floor to ceiling – pictures, surfboards, musical instruments, and memorabilia of every sort everywhere you look. The coolest part was it ALL had a story; all you had to do was ask Bill. He gave us the grand tour of the whole shop which was nothing short of awesome. When we finally got around to asking him where we should go eat, he said “You’re about done” so I asked what I owed to which he replied “Just tip my tire guy – and have a great trip!” When I got back to my shop, I made sure a set of the latest greatest shocks were sent to Bill no charge. As I left I thanked Bill again and reached out shake his hand he grabbed it and said “Bring it in brother” and gave me a quick man-hug & pat on the back. I will stop by this shop every time I roll through Monterey from now on because it’s got real motorcycle soul – and that soul is called Bill.
 
So Troy and I went to the Breakfast Club and finally ate (really, that was the name of the place and I highly recommend it). By then it was around noon. My intent was to be half way to Yosemite by then, but hey – there’s no schedule involved here, just enjoy the ride (sound familiar?). So Troy headed back home to Santa Cruz and I headed east towards North Fork near Bass Lake where my Buddy Larry and his bride Sue had invited me to dinner and to stay the night. There were only a few notable things along the way. I rolled through Hollister and made a quick stop at local Clampers (ECV!) hang out Johnny’s Bar & Grill for a quick draft. Johnny’s and the town of Hollister for that matter lay claim to being the “Birthplace of the American Biker” referencing an event (or incident depending upon who you talk to) that occurred in July of 1947. You can Google it or watch Brando’s classic “The Wild One” and get the general idea.
The other impressive sight was rolling over the hills on the 152 and coming upon the San Luis Reservoir – it’s HUGE! Beyond that, this part of the ride went through mostly rural farmland and ranches with livestock, groves, and planted fields and all the fertilizer smells and bugs that go with them.
As I headed up into the mountains towards my buddy’s home, the ride got far more interesting and scenic. I started seeing deer just hanging out alongside the road. At first I thought how cool that was, then all the YouTube videos of deer leaping out in front of motorcyclists ran through my head – and they no longer seemed that cool. It was late afternoon by the time I got to Bass Lake at which point I realized I didn’t actually know where I was going – I’d not been to “Rancho Relaxo” as Larry calls his home. So I stopped and called him, only to find out I’d taken the longest scenic route I could’ve taken to get to his house. He then informed me how to get to his property and that we had dinner reservations in 15 minutes and to “HURRY UP”. What he failed to tell me was I was 30 minutes away. Oh well, didn’t hit any deer and made it there safely. I had a great dinner and pleasant evening. Once again, slept like a rock.
The Man…the Myth…the Legend – my buddy Larry Langley
The next morning Larry made us a big breakfast and I was given a tour of the property which was beautiful. Larry and I go way back and had a lot of catching up to do, so though I intended to leave early I didn’t attempt to negotiate Rancho Relaxo’s treacherous steep loose gravel strewn driveway until about noon. Three or four hours behind schedule again, oh well why change the pattern? So off I went to ride up and through Yosemite Valley taking in all it had to offer, then turn around (Tioga Pass snowed in, remember?) and head back south, stopping for a quick visit and bite to eat with my friend Joseph near Fresno, then continue down turning in and heading out to my friends Ed & Rene’s home near Lake Isabella. As I rolled out of Larry’s driveway I knew I wouldn’t be at Ed & Rene’s until after dark, but I was too excited to care – I was only about 20 miles from one of the most scenic places on earth, and twisting the throttle that direction.​

I got the gate of Yosemite Park, paid my fee and pulled off to the side check my map. The weather had turned from sunny to dark and as I got my GoPro out to record my ride into the Valley a rather menacing loud and long crack & boom of rolling thunder prognosticated how this part of the ride was going to be – wet. I didn’t care in the least, I had a rain suit and new rear tire, and I was in Yosemite. As I headed up the road I noticed several bear warning signs and a new bad interaction with nature entered my mind as a motorcyclist – what if I were to come across a bear? Would the bear chase me like an angry dog? Bears have been known to ride motorcycles, would they try to steal my bike? Even if this was not likely (and I had no idea one way or another as I’ve seen very few bears) what if I came around a corner and hit one? Sure, similar to hitting a deer it would really hurt and cause damage – but there would be little chance of a dear getting angry and EATING ME afterward. So as I rode and these likely irrational wildlife thoughts rambled through my head, it started raining. Not too bad yet, but I stopped to put the rain suit on before I got too wet. The GoPro was running the whole time, and though I’ve not seen it yet I’m betting the video is entertaining (though a strong language warning may be required at the beginning). Right as I went to remount the bike I noticed a snowflake on my glove…this was not what I envisioned my ride into Yosemite would be like.
As I headed up the road, it started to rain pretty good. This slowed the pace a bit, which was fine. The rain suit was doing it’s job and the only drawback was the water running across the road required more focus than a dry road would, thus the ability to sight-see was limited. At the same time, the rain added several positive dimensions to the ride – the smell of the wet forest is beyond words. As I wound my way up Wawona Road towards Yosemite Valley the rain would let up and try to turn to snow. I then came to the Wawona Tunnel, a relatively long hole bored through the mountain coming out into the valley and one of the most spectacular views one could even hope to see in their lifetime. If you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about, if not you should add it to your bucket list.
The view coming out of Wawona Tunnel…EPIC.

I toured around the valley a bit, even stopped and hiked around the base of the iconic Bridal Veil Fall. There was this rider I’d been crossing paths with for the past couple hours, and we’d been exchanging nods and hand signals during our ride up into the Valley. He too had stopped to get a closer look at the iconic waterfall and parked next to me. As we removed our helmets and exchanged verbal salutations, I discovered he had limited English skills as he was not from the United States. This wasn’t an issue though, we just continued to use hand signals and facial expressions like those that we did while riding – pretty much a universal language as it turns out. As we got back from our little hike and prepared to ride further into the valley, there was a park Ranger there informing the tourist that a snow storm was rolling in and anyone who wasn’t prepared to stay or drive in the snow should head back down the hill – and then looked at us two motorcyclist and said “you two should get out while you can”. So I reluctantly started to make my way out of the Valley, taking the most indirect route and stopping for last minute photos here and there. The foreign rider I’d met appeared to be doing the same. The weather was getting cold and wet again and the sky was undeniably saying it was time to go, but it was so hard to ride away from all of it. There was clearly so much more I hadn’t experienced there, and it is certain that I will have to return. My only regret was I didn’t take more pictures, but then again I’m not sure the pictures could’ve done any of it justice.
As awesome as the ride up the 41 was I didn’t wasn’t to backtrack my route, so I headed out of the Valley on the 140 skirting the Merced River, down into Mariposa, then zig-zagged my way out to the 99 South. On my way I saw some river rafters shooting the rapids and the weather warmed up, but as I got down into the flatlands there was a HUGE thunderstorm seemingly trying to intersect my route. So I kept re-routing and trying to get ahead and around it, as it looked like a bad one – lots of lighting and thick black trails drooping down to the horizon. At one point, I found myself actually cutting through an orchard from one rural 2 lane to another. I know this was trespassing, but the storm looked that bad.

I decided to get out to the highway, top the tank off, and just make a flat burn south to make up some time. I also wanted to stay ahead of the storm that seemed to be chasing me down. It still caught me as I hit the 99, but not too bad. By this time I figured I wouldn’t be in Fresno until about dinnertime – where I was supposed to be for lunch with a friend. I considered stopping and calling him to see if he wanted to meet up for dinner, but that’s about when the storm caught up with me so I just stayed on the gas and continued south all the way down to Bakersfield where I made a left on the 178 back up into the Sierras toward Lake Isabella.

I didn’t get to the Kern Canyon road until well after dark, which skirts the Kern River of which it was too dark to see. This was a very dark twisty canyon ride, full of bugs and I even hit a bat at one point – signaling I was riding into “Bat Country”. There was hardly anybody on the road late on a Sunday night; I think I may have passed five or six cars going the other way. It was both eerie and cool at the same time. As my elevation increased the temperature dropped. I considered stopping and adding a layer to warm up a bit but I was running so late and kept thinking “I’m almost there and they’re waiting up for me” so I pressed on. When I arrived at Ed & Rene’s, they welcomed me with hugs and a hot meal. It was late, so we limited our catching up for the evening and thus ended day three of my trek.

Morning Java overlooking the Sierras near Lake Isabella…ZEN
The following morning consisted of coffee, epic views, and some great company. We all went down to the local Café and I had a big meal in preparation for my ride home. Before leaving, Rene presented me with a dozen-n-a-half of fresh eggs from their chicken coop. The bike was already relatively “full” with my other necessities, but both Ed and Rene are motorcycle folk and I took it as a challenge as to how I was going to safely transport them home – so I sorted out a way. I said my goodbyes and headed over the hills and down into the desert for the last blast home. The first part of this ride, prior to the flat burn through the desert, was pretty nice – scenic and plenty of altitude changes and switchbacks. Once down into Inyokern though, the ride was mostly straight, hot, and windy. Sure the high desert is scenic as well and this route has its visual highpoints, but it’s relatively familiar to me as I live in it and it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate it. By this time I was just interested in getting home.
I made the hop across the desert in a non-stop drone, rolling up into my driveway early in the afternoon. I unloaded the bike – including the unbroken eggs, all 18 of them – and put the Road Piranha away. I poured myself a cocktail and fired up the whirlpool. As I relaxed and reflected on the past few days, the expected and unexpected, seeing good friends, meeting new ones, and all the epic scenery I’d been able to experience, I concluded that this ride had truly been a “good one”.

You know, over the years of riding I’ve done I’ve learned that the best rides have less to do with the destination and ultimately tend to be more about the journey – it’s not so much about standing on the summit as it is about the climb.

New Progressive Suspension “Sport Series” shock seen on Jay Leno’s Garage…

I’m not a huge fan of the standard “trike” but when a third wheel is added to a motorcycle in a more unique manner it can prove more interesting. Such is the case on the Tilting Motor Works leaning trike conversion kits. In the simplest terms this is a kit that still allows your motorcycle to lean – but adds 50% more tire contact. The cool part is that extra traction is in the front where it does the most good. So when the folks from TMW came to Progressive Suspension for their unique suspension needs, our R&D and engineering departs hooked them up with some of our newest shock series. These kits are currently available for various Harley models, but I suspect they’ll be expanding their product line to include other models as demand dictates. If you go to their website you can see pictures of a Yamaha V-Max they initially prototyped the patented leaning front-clip on – which they ran at Bonneville in 2012 setting a record in the “cyclecar” classification of 132.342mph in the process.
But running flat out in a straight line isn’t what this setup is all about. It was recently featured on Jay Leno’s Garage, and there’s some pretty cool footage of the unique chassis design in action. Even Jay thought it was pretty cool.
Here’s a link to the episode of Jay Leno’s Garage that features this set up – check it out!

Top 7 Reasons Why We Ride…

So I did some extensive research (I asked around) and here it is – seven of the most common reasons (or misconceptions) of  “Why We Ride”…

  • Riding motorcycles has a certain Sex appeal – if this if why you ride, you’re missing the point.
  • To be a Rebel – again, if this is why you ride (and you look like this) you’re not really “getting it”.
  • Save money on Fuel – well, not really when you consider what a modern high-mileage car can get these days.
  • Run with the “Pack” – really?…not this Dude.
  • Save money on maintenance – maybe not so much, ever priced a set of good tires for a motorcycle?
  • Parking is never a problem – not true, unless there’s actually designated motorcycle parking and even then there’s the occasional ass-clown that parks their Eco-cage in it.
  • Traffic is never a problem – well sure we can keep moving when the cages come to stop, but that doesn’t mean traffic isn’t still stressful. Splitting lanes for an hour is not the Dude’s idea of a  pleasant ride.
Okay, so maybe those aren’t the top seven reasons…maybe they aren’t real reasons at all. I think the truth is we all have our reasons, and though a few may seem to be similar to other riders if we dig a little deeper we’d find each has their own very individual list. That’s because motorcycling is itself a very individualistic activity. If you had to come up with seven reasons why you ride, what would they be?…how about just one?

The Faceless Cage…

Autonomous cars. As a motorcyclist, this whole self-driving car thing deeply disturbs me. In fact, simply as an individual who doesn’t wish to have my means of transportation dictated to me, I’m outright against them. Never mind the fact that the current technology versions being considered for service have known issues – one of which is recognizing and properly interacting with motorcycles in traffic – it’s an issue of control.
No, I’m not referring to the proficiency with which modern technology is able to pilot a vehicle from point A to point B. I’m sure that can be done. My biggest issue with driverless cars is this – I can easily see how these vehicles would eventually be made virtually mandatory. Impossible you say? Think about it. They wouldn’t have to pass any “new” laws to do it, just allow insurance companies to raise the rates to insure any self-operated vehicle so high that it’s simply not practical to own one anymore. Given the issue autonomous cars have recognizing and dealing with motorcycles, they’ll surely be the first to have their insurance rates increase 1000% or more. The Cycle Dude does not approve…am I missing something? If this comes to be, what do we do?…what will you do?

PRODUCT REVIEW – MotoCentric Ranger Boots

  • Basic 12″ tall black street boot – does what it should.
  • Water resistant leather
  • Upper PU internal shin guard, calf guard, plastic shin and ankle guard
  • Overlap zip closure
  • Ribbed flex panels
  • Breathable, anti-bacterial and mesh lining
  • Waterproof membrane Anatomical, removable and anti-bacterial foot bed
  • Anti-slide rubber sole

$149.99 retail (sale pricing around $120)

Fit – ★☆☆☆
Finish – ★★★☆
Features – ★★★☆
Durability – (TBD)
Cost Benefit – ★★★★

PROS – design, quality, price
CONS – sizing runs small, narrow toe box

Boots, possibly the second most import bit of equipment you can wear if you ride. It’s a fact, and if you wear hi-tops, Chucks, or sneakers in an effort to look “hip” or cool – being able to walk normal for the rest of your life because you didn’t mangle your foot in an accident is much cooler. So assuming you understand this logic, I’d like to share a few observations I’ve made on a set of boots I recently acquired – MotoCentric’s Ranger Boots.

These are a relatively high value street boot, full of features typically found on more expensive brands. The construction is what I’d call a “hybrid” meaning it consists of leather, plastic, and patented textiles. Normally I’d shy away from a boot that wasn’t primarily made of leather, as I’m a bit old fashion that way, but this is a well-designed boot. There leather where it needs to be leather and all the other components are well placed and functional. The biggest problem with these boots is the sizing. I typically wear a 9 to a 9-1/2 (US) in a standard or wide if available. Some boots made in Europe or “off-shore” that I’ve worn tend to run a little small and I find if I order a half to a full size larger, that often results in a good fit. It appears that these boots are not offered in half sizes, so I went with a 10 (US). Once on, and before breaking them in a bit (stretching them out), they were almost too tight. The length seemed good, but the width was tight. The toe box on these boots is very narrow. So much so I was considering changing them out for 11’s but I think they would’ve been too long then. They were a bit difficult to put on as well, partially due to being so narrow and partially due to the design. Walking around in them wasn’t the most comfortable shoe I’d walked around in, but it wasn’t awful – these are for riding not walking, so I went for a ride. The lack of width and resulting snug feeling seem to subside once on the road. I believe they stretched out a bit. The unique textile shift pad on top of the toe has a texture that offered a good “grip” feel on the shifter without being overly so. The soles are not too thick nor are the heels very pronounced. Though they have nylon shin guards reminiscent of a motocross boot as well as other built-in guards, you don’t notice them. The ankle and toe guards went un-noticed as well. To me that the best kind of “armor” – the kind that you don’t notice unless it’s needed.

So are these boots right for you? If you’re looking for a “biker” boot or a shoe with a hipster sort of vibe, the answer is likely no. These boots have a nice subtle look to them that I like, not too Marlon Brando, not too Star Wars, just a purpose-built quality black riding boot. In regards to durability, I’ve not had them long enough yet to comment – nor can a I comment on their claimed water-resistance as I’ve yet to be caught in a storm with them (look for a follow up later), but they look to be pretty well made and I’ve had other MotoCentric products that have lived up to their claims and worked out well for me so I’m guessing these will too. They aren’t made in Italy (Pakistan actually) nor do they sport an iconic logo endorsed by World champions, but they don’t cost as much as those boots either. In fact, with a suggested retail price of $150 dollars – and a typical sale price around $120 – I believe them to be a bargain. At the time I wrote this review you could order a pair from the online retailer Motorcycle Superstore (http://www.motorcycle-superstore.com/motocentric) for a mere $74.99. There were other online retailers with similar pricing. Bottom-line is if you’re looking for a pair of functional well-made street boots at reasonable price, the MotoCentric Ranger boots should be on your list of serious considerations.

MotoCentric’s “Ranger” boot – pretty decent moto-footwear.

MY FAVORITE RIDE…

“We’ve all got wheels to take ourselves away” – Gram Parsons

What’s my favorite ride?…For me, as for many of us, I think it’s hard to name just one – in fact I’d have to say impossible. True, some have been better than others but it’s still not a simple answer. The question itself could mean a route or destination, or could mean a specific ride that has taken place – or even be referring to my favorite bike. This seemingly simple question becomes more difficult to answer when I start scanning my mental database of 45 plus years of riding.

Sticking to the general implication of the question, perhaps my favorite ride entails riding to some scenic location…

Or possibly stepping back in time and cruising the old hack down the path less traveled…

Then again, there’s something to be said for an empty twisty road…

So what’s my Favorite ride?…I guess my favorite ride is the next one…what’s yours?