Elusive N spot and other quirks…

If I’m not out riding, I like living vicariously and reading about the experiences of others on their adventures. Foster Kinn is a biker/author whose outlook and stories I enjoy. He does a great job at highlighting funny or unique interactions with people he meets while on the road. Check out his book, Freedom’s Rush: Tales from The Biker and The Beast, as well as his FB page for yourself to see what I mean. A particular observation he made a couple of years ago stuck with me, because it’s hilariously accurate:

“Saw about a dozen and a half bikers pull into a gas station. After watching them stop at the pumps, start up their bikes and ride to the front of the convenience store, stop, then fire up their bikes again and take off, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most time consuming activity bikers engage in is finding neutral.”  -Kinn

I might not have understood how funny his comment is, if it didn’t turn out to be true when trying to get the Heritage into neutral. I think of it as this bike’s particular quirk. Once I’ve come to a complete stop with the bike still running, forget about finding neutral. It’s a waste of time unless I kill the engine first. That leaves me with a just a quick opportunity to shift into neutral as I’m coasting in, before I put my feet down.

I didn’t have this issue with my last bike, the Sportster. Neutral was always easy to find, but there were other little problems to deal with, lovingly or otherwise. The most annoying quirk developed on a soggy return from Myrtle Beach Bike Week. At the time, I still lived in Virginia and what should have been a somewhat quick seven hour blast up the interstate turned into a much longer ordeal.  With no rain in the forecast, I’d headed back early in the morning along with a friend. As we approached the South Carolina/North Carolina border, what we thought was a short thunderstorm hit. We’d hoped to wait it out at a fast food place, but the weatherman’s notoriety at being wrong rang true once again, and it turned out this shower was in to linger for a while. The constant soaking on the ride up through the state of North Carolina wreaked havoc with my turn signals.

At some point, I realized my left turn signal was blinking and wouldn’t cut back off. When I hit the switch on the right side, they both stayed on. I figured letting them run as hazards would be less confusing to the drivers around us, and added a bonus visibility to traffic coming up from behind. So we continued north, our own little 2 bike, flashing yellow parade. Once home, a mechanic buddy went through the lighting system and fixed it. We thought so anyway. The next time I was caught in rain, the blinker came on again. And the next time I washed it, blinking! After a while, I didn’t even have to get the bike wet for the flashing to start again. If it rained, the left signal turned on and would continue for a few days. Another friend went through the wiring, and couldn’t find anything wrong. It was a quirk I came to deal with, and plan my state inspections around as I knew it would never pass if there had been recent rain!

I’ve come to think of these quirks as something that makes riding interesting, and even makes the bike more endearing to the rider. After all, don’t we encounter quirks with our friends, family, and significant others? As far as people go you’ll find loud ones, squirrely ones, those that are hard to kick into gear, and those who are full speed ahead all the time. I love them and am thankful they love me too, quirks and all!

 

Rally On…

Mild December ride in Gettysburg

Things are…different. That seems to be the understatement of 2020. Especially when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic. Those conversations tend to involve a more thorough description with a sprinkling of expletives not suitable for print here. Frustrations over some of the safety requirements are certainly understandable. To me, it seems the restrictions we’ve had to follow have not only had a negative impact on the livelihood of so many, but tend to stifle human nature itself. Take masks for example. While they may help to limit the spread of the virus, the inability to see and share smiles with others is really starting to wear on me. I miss hugs, and although I enjoy riding on my own, I’m looking forward to the day when bigger group rides and in-person gatherings are possible. One of the joys of riding that I’m most drawn to is the feeling of freedom. On the bike, I’m not too fat, thin, rich, poor, old, or young. I’m just me, living in that moment, free from being categorized and judged. I think most riders are attracted to not only that sense of freedom, but the actual freedom to move about and travel at will. The lockdown and social distancing have cramped that style and led to the cancellation of many events. I was stunned and saddened to hear Gettysburg Bike Week had been called off for 2020.

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My ol’ Sportie in Gettysburg

A favorite rally in the Mid-Atlantic Region, it’s traditionally falls over the weekend following Independence Day. It offers the usual attractions of a motorcycle event, meeting others who love to ride, games, music, and vendors. In addition the town is of course full of history, restaurants with fantastic food, and the surrounding areas provide gorgeous views to ride through. Another unique aspect in Gettysburg, the residents seem to enjoy the event as much as the bikers. I’ve always felt welcome, and discovered that the Saturday evening parade of motorcycles through downtown is yearly entertainment for a lot of the locals.
Luckily, the pandemic restrictions are easing in Pennsylvania and it appears the spirit of freedom can’t be cancelled. From what I understand through word of mouth as well as online communication, most people who were planning to attend bike week are still going. This is news that lifts my spirit more than I could’ve imagined. There are businesses like restaurants, campgrounds, and hotels that are reopening and need the patronage. After all, safety precautions are nothing new to motorcyclists. They’re considered in how we ride, the way we maintain our bikes, and what types of gear we choose to wear. I’m confident everyone is capable to make their own choices about what is safe for them regarding the virus too. So while things might be…different in that there is no “official” event scheduled, I have a feeling Gettysburg is still going to be full of fun the second weekend in July. Be safe, and Happy Independence Day!

It ain’t easy bein’ cheesy…

I love to laugh. A point I made clear to my handsome man years back on a trip to Myrtle Beach Bike Week. Out for late-night beverages, he teased that I had fallen for him because he was such a smooth operator. I said no, explaining that good-looking guys with cheesy pick-up lines are a dime a dozen and I fell for him because he makes me laugh. He instantly turned to a young lady walking by and asked, “Hey! You want some cheese?!” With a giggle, she said no and continued past us in the direction of the bathroom. As we laughed over his cheesy-line failure, a friend came up and asked what was so funny. We told him, and as fate would have it, the same young lady was approaching on her way back to her friends. Not even knowing this, he turned and asked the poor girl if she wanted some cheese. “NO! No I don’t!” With that she was gone, probably with a story about encountering a bunch of dairy-infatuated freaks while at a motorcycle rally. As for us, the tale is still told whenever bad pick-up lines come up in conversation.

These past few months, keeping a sense of humor has served as a huge coping mechanism throughout all the changes in life this global pandemic has caused. Riding itself is important therapy even with a much different start to this spring season. Usually there are dozens of rides and rallies to look forward to, but so many have been cancelled or postponed. I pick up pins or patches as souvenirs from these events, Resized_20200522_163107 (1)so I had to buy one I saw online to cover what I’ll miss in person. It says “COVID-19 STOLE MY RALLIES, 2020,” and I laughed at this subtle flipping off of the virus. It came from Big Gurl Designs in Tennessee and when I received my order I was touched to find a sweet hand-written thank you note from owner Tonya. As you’re able to, please support these small and local businesses. While the cancellation of some of these gatherings rob us of a good time, they could be much worse financially for the vendors.

Since a lot of the functions hosted and attended in the motorcycle community are designed to benefit a charity or good cause, remember to find ways to support those groups as well. Bigfoot…The Social Distancing Champion’s Solo Motorcycle Ride challenge to benefit food banks provided an amusing concept to deal with adhering to separation guidelines. As well as a funny t-shirt logo featuring Bigfoot riding a motorcycle with a roll of toilet paper in his hand. I know at one point not long ago, I would have been more surprised to see fully stocked TP shelves than Sasquatch himself! In any case, hang in there as virus-related restrictions ease. Hopefully we’ll be able to get together soon to share fun, hugs, laughs, and of course…pick-up line stories!

3-D Scrapbooks

The cat needed a hug. He let me know this like he always does by sitting up on his hind legs and tapping at my shins with his paws. I picked him up and as he relished the20191223_145629 attention, wandered over to my Christmas tree. My favorite sign that the holiday season is here, it becomes this three-dimensional type of scrapbook, and I paced around it taking in all the trimming. I’m guilty of forgetting why I walked from one room to another sometimes, so it amazes me that I can remember the details of every decoration. There are those I made or remember seeing on the tree as a child. Others I recall buying and enjoy the memories of where I was at that point in my life. The most treasured ornaments make me smile because they bring to mind the person who gifted them to me.

Later I realized I had another mobile scrapbook of sorts and some trinkets that hadn’t been added on yet. That memento would be my motorcycle vest. Sure enough, I found a couple of loose pins from this year’s bike weeks, so I got busy finding spots to attach them. I reminisced on more people and places as I looked over older tokens along with patches from rallies and various events. A pin from a 911 Memorial run drew my attention. It reminded me of the first time I met a group of girls I’ve been friends with for over 15 years now. Coincidentally, some of us have recently discussed a reunion for a trip back to Tennessee. Four of us rode out that way in 2006 to investigate the famed Tail of the Dragon. 

Off we went one morning in July: Crash, MA, Linda, and me. Most of that first day was somewhat scenic and relaxing. However, the stormy moods of summer would catch up with us and we found ourselves dealing with vicious downpours in the evening hours. Thinking the first was a one-off downpour, we dodged it in the shelter of a bank drive-thru. But as we rode on a real deluge hit us on the interstate and that turned into a hiding-out-under-the-overpass-extravaganza I’m sure we’ve all been caught in at some point. When the rain finally let up so we could continue, I remember coming into Blowing Rock, NC listening to Crash’s radio. She was in front of me blasting “She’s a Beauty” by the Tubes and I can’t hear that song without smiling and flashing back to this trip.

We made it to the motel room we’d reserved tired, hungry, thirsty and soggy. Lucky too since we got to a pub just across the street before they closed for the night.

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Mannequin head camo in Asheville

While not exactly sunny, the next day was thankfully much drier. We leisurely rolled our way down part of the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, NC, a city where it seems like there is always a cool place to head to for live music. We found one and not only had a great time listening to the band there, but I’m convinced we met the real-life version of Dale Gribble from King of the Hill. This man approached us after spotting our crappy flip phones sitting on our table. He looked and sounded just like the cartoon character as he warned that Big Brother was watching us through the devices. If that’s true, let me make it known I’d like more pictures from our adventure because I know we didn’t take nearly enough.

We were blessed with sunshine, scenic views, and surprisingly uncrowded curves the following morning for our journey across the Tail of the Dragon. We rode it from North Carolina to Tennessee where we spotted a hammock-sized bra draped across the grill of a pickup truck at our first rest stop. We’ve never stopped wondering about that fashion statement, or how a yellow jacket managed to get inside my clothes to sting me in the belly as we pulled into the parking lot! Eventually we headed back to Virginia, to see how close to home we could get. However, Linda’s new little GPS gadget was about as high tech as the cell phones we had back then and we wound up riding for hours in circles…still in Tennessee. At least it was a gorgeous day, and we were lost on some awesome back roads. After an impromptu pizza party in a motel parking lot and a good night’s sleep, Crash and Linda hit the interstate to get home quickly and I paired up with MA on a day-long putt making our way back from Bristol to Central Virginia.

Thankful for these experiences and friends to share them with, I hope the holidays have brought you fond memories, and dreams of upcoming chances to make new ones too. Happy New Year!

…and a bike manual in a pear tree!

The time of year for a switch back has come and gone. In this case I’m not talking about taking a day to find a bunch of crooked mountain roads with plenty of fun switchbacks to ride. I’m talking about that switch back from Daylight Saving Time to Eastern Standard. It’s when we’re out riding and find ourselves digging through our pockets and bags looking for our “clears” at around 5 o’clock instead of 8:30 pm. Unless you’re more organized than me and can better keep up with your nighttime glasses that is. A recent hunt for mine reminded me to put clear lenses on my Christmas wish list this year since I usually blank out whenever someone asks me what I would want. And so that leads me to my Top 10 List of Gifts for the Motorcycle Lover. In no particular order, except maybe a loose train of thought, these are items I’ve given and/or received to great reviews.

Clear lens glasses- Let’s go ahead and start with clears for riding in the dark or rain. It doesn’t hurt to have extra pairs to keep them handy. That way, you also have some for use as replacements if any are scratched, lost, or broken.

Bungee cords- If you’ve ever seen a couple of riders on the side of the road, forced to take their belts off their waists in order to strap down camping gear that’s come loose on a bike, you know the value of these beauties.15493302_10207375284649914_4594185885733418080_o Forget diamonds, bungees have been this girl’s best friend many times. Keep them around the garage for packing to go on a long road trip. Happiness is having a stash on the bike as well. Just in case you find yourself picking up something that won’t fit in a bag but must be tied down in order to get it home. Multi-packs of various lengths make a great gift, extra bonus points if cargo netting and zip ties are included.

Rain suit- I’m not a huge fan of riding in the rain, but this is the best gift I’ve ever hated having to use! Thanks Dad!

Heated gear- Once upon a time, another rider approached me at a party. He said that one morning as he headed down 29 south toward Charlottesville, he saw someone on a motorcycle merge into traffic ahead of him. He explained his thought was, “It’s 32 degrees out, now who is this crazy a$sh*le?!” He grinned and said when he caught up with the bike; he realized it was me, “No offense”. None taken! I got a good laugh out of it right along with him when I described how I would cheat the chill by sticking an aromatherapy heating pillow in the microwave, then stuff it down the front of my jacket for the 20-minute ride to work. Thanks to thoughtful family members, I now have a heated jacket liner and gloves. In cold weather, these extend not only the length of each ride, but the whole riding season each year. However, there are times when I catch a scent of lavender and think fondly back to that essential oil-filled quick fix for a frigid day!

Bike manual- When I first started riding, I happened to be in a dealership where I overheard a woman complain that her bike had been there for 4 days and she wanted it back so she could ride. The simple oil change she needed still hadn’t been done, and they weren’t sure when they could get to it. Unwilling to ever find myself in the same situation, I asked friends to teach me how to change my own oil and perform basic maintenance on my motorcycle. The first lesson was that everyone should have the service manual for their motorcycle. It makes the rest of the lessons much easier. Which leads me to the next gift idea.

Oil filter wrench, filters, oil- An oil filter wrench makes accomplishing the needed oil change a lot easier in my opinion. And one year, my boyfriend gave me a filter and case of oil. While non-riding friends thought practicality canceled out romance in that instance, I was thrilled. The smiles and memories on my bike long outlasted flowers or other options! 

Gremlin bell- If you’re not familiar with the legend of gremlin bells and the protection they provide bikes and riders, a quick search online will fill you in. The short explanation is that these bells are attached to a motorcycle in order to trap and drive away road gremlins that want to cause harm. These are tough little trinkets; however, the power is only activated when the bell is a gift. Have fun picking one out and give your rider a little extra safety insurance.

Bandanas- There’s no such thing as having too many bandanas because there are as many reasons to keep them on hand as there are colors and designs. It’s common practice to fold one into a do-rag to hide crazy helmet hair or wipe overnight dew off a bike seat.  But you might also find yourself rolling ice cubes into one at a convenience store to tie around your neck and make crossing a hot corner of Mississippi in August feel a lot cooler!

Lip balm- Great stocking stuffer to protect not only against windburn, but sun damage too. Pick some out, SPF included.

Gift cards- When in doubt, gift cards or gas cards are always welcome! My Mom used to worry that these weren’t personal enough. Of course, they are! After all, it’s the thought that counts and you were thoughtful enough to pick one up. Christmas is about Christ, not stressing everyone out over presents. Just BE present. Enjoy this time with your loved ones over the holidays, and Merry Christmas!

Priceless Souvenir

We’ve all experienced the symptoms: sluggish body, nausea, an ache in the chest, tearful eyes. Only in this case it’s not the flu, a hangover, or a bad breakup. It’s returning to work after going out to lunch on a gorgeous day. Walking away from your motorcycle when what you really want to do is fire it back up and ride the rest of the afternoon away. One such day, knowing it’s hard to make a quiet and unnoticeable escape on a Harley, I dragged my feet back inside the workplace. As if proving that riders are more conspicuous than other commuters, a woman in the elevator glanced at the helmet in my hand and said, “I like your bike!” She went on to explain that the day before, she’d left the building with another female coworker. “We heard this motorcycle coming through the parking lot and looked up and it was you! A WOMAN on this big ol’ bike…and we were so proud!” It brightened the rest of my workday considerably, even if she didn’t realize it. Funny how a simple comment or gesture can lift another’s spirit, whether you are on the giving or receiving end. Recently, performing a random act of kindness WHILE on that longed-for road trip left me with a priceless souvenir.

We were on our way to OC Bikefest for a much-needed vacation. Rather than take my bike this year, I opted to snuggle in behind my boyfriend. I’ve had friends say it looks strange when they see me on the back of a motorcycle, but I’ve never taken the “M” endorsement on my driver’s license to mean “man-free zone”. I love being in the wind, whether on my own, or sharing the experience. The ability and freedom of choosing how I ride is a gift I’m always thankful for! As we came to a crawl approaching the Bay Bridge toll plaza, I looked around to check out the bikes of other riders also headed to Ocean City. We passed one particular couple riding tandem and they caught my eye because they appeared to be a father/teenage-daughter duo. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was their first trip together and thought about what awesome memories they would make. My own father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s this year, so I find myself reminded daily of how truly precious a memory can be.

Realizing we were edging closer to one of the toll booths, I started digging cash out of my pocket. As we finally approached a window, I heard a bike pull up behind us. Glancing back I was pleasantly surprised to see it was the twosome I’d noticed before. I handed enough money to the attendant for two bikes to cover our fee as well as theirs, and we were off to maneuver through the rest of the bottleneck. Before everyone made their way back to open road and once again got up to speed, I turned back to smile at the pair. The teen’s face lit up with a big grin and she gave a shy wave as her dad looked up and mouthed a thank you. The expression on her face made my day, leaving me with a huge grin of my own the rest of the way to the beach. Having to concentrate on the road, my boyfriend missed most of that exchange. When I described it to him later, I told him the feeling it left me with made that $4.00 toll the best money I’d spend our whole vacation. It’s definitely a highlight of the trip I’ll always remember.

Now, November brings with it a couple of introspective holidays for me: Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for our Vets and the sacrifices they make to protect the cherished freedoms we have. And each year I grow even more grateful for the time I am able to enjoy with my loved ones. Please keep Veterans, family and friends, and even complete strangers in mind when you are inspired to commit a random act of kindness. You’ll be glad you did- paying it forward is such a great gift not only to others, but also to yourself.

Rock of Ages

It’s always fun to watch my niece unwrap presents, especially when the look on her face means the gift was obviously something she really wanted. On a Christmas several years ago, she seemed thrilled as she tore festive paper away from a long metal rod. At first, I thought she was awfully happy about receiving a bicycle handlebar. I wondered whether she was simply customizing the look of her bike or if the part was a necessary replacement because of an accident. As I speculated, she slapped a cell phone on one end of this mysterious bar thingy, held it up high and took a picture of herself. Oh. So THAT’S what a selfie stick looks like. Luckily, I’d figured this out before giving away my lack of gadget expertise. If I’d suddenly asked her if she’d wrecked her bicycle, it wouldn’t have been so easy to slip back under my rock unnoticed.

I’m old enough under there to remember when simply getting pictures of anything was an adventure in itself! You could use a whole roll of film, send it away to be developed, wait a week or two and wind up with…nothing, except disappointment. Photos of blackness because the lens cap was on or there was no flash. In some unlucky cases the result was double prints of pink blobs because a finger was in the way or the people in the shot were out of focus. Those close to my age know what I mean. There are some technological advances that make life a little easier- saving time and money. Taking pictures is a good example, you know instantly if you have the shot you want. If you forget the camera, the cell phone can save you- stick or no stick.

There are other situations where my cell has come to the rescue, especially while riding my motorcycle. When rain develops, I can look at the radar image on a weather app to see if I can get out of it quickly. It makes it easier to decide if I need to find an interesting place to stop and wait for it to end, or I just have to put on rain gear and push through it. Phone navigation apps help to point myself back in the right direction if I take a wrong turn and don’t have the luxury of enough time to stay lost for a while.

my first gps
My first GPS

Yet I look back on the days of scrawling directions on my arm, no safety net of a phone, and miss that time. In many occasions now, a wireless device puts everyone on the road in more danger- namely when they are in the hands of inattentive drivers.

You’ve seen them, the texters behind the wheel who think they can stare at their phone and drive at the same time. Pretty easy to spot, usually they’re in the car in the passing lane going 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, swerving back and forth or slamming on the brakes every few seconds. They’re also the ones sitting at the light after it has turned green still staring at the cell screen. Distracted driving gets worse all the time and it’s so infuriating when I take note of how many drivers I see looking down at their phone instead of concentrating on operating their vehicle. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated- a statistic that doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as it should. As riders I ask you to please look into supporting the motorcycle rights organization in your state. Get involved with ABATE or other groups in order to help form legislation to stop distracted driving and keep us safer on the road.

As for the tech junkies transfixed with their cell phones at all times, I don’t get it. I’m sure they probably can’t figure out why I want to jump on two wheels to ride every chance I get either. It’s hard to describe to anyone who’s never been on a bike, let alone those who don’t know life before wireless, that feeling of being present in the moment. It’s a joy I hope they’ll one day discover instead of continuing to scroll through messages and images on a flat screen. Experiencing an awareness of all my surroundings and enjoying interaction with other human beings along the way is a blessing in my life. And life under my rock is good!

“Mid-Atlantic! Where the wind comes sweepin’ down both lanes…….”

As motorcycle riders we all love to be “in the wind”. Lately that phrase seems to take on a whole new meaning. Last year around this time, heading out for a ride involved constantly dodging raindrops. Now it seems like every other week I’m trying to stay upright in extremely heavy wind gusts. Unfortunately, this weather usually coincides with the garbage collection schedule once or twice a week, which leads to an annoying round of the how-many-houses-away-will-the-trashcan-be-today game. I don’t remember all these high wind warnings and advisories occurring as frequently or violently in the past. Actually before I got my own bike, I really didn’t consider how much the wind could affect a ride. It didn’t take long to learn that lesson.

I’d only been riding my own for a few months and was still on my first bike, a light little Suzuki Savage 650. When I met up with a buddy for a scenic ride in the country, he mentioned that the forecast for the afternoon was windy. We decided to head out anyway and although I don’t remember what speed the gusts were that day, I do recall feeling like the wind could blast me off the road or into the lane of oncoming traffic. At our first stop my friend asked how I was doing. Trying to keep my voice from shaking, I told him I didn’t mean to be melodramatic but I was truly scared of the wind pushing me into losing control of the bike. It was a huge relief when he reassured me that even with a heavier bike and more riding experience, he wasn’t comfortable either. Luckily, the breezes slowed throughout a lunch break and had gotten much more manageable before it was time to head home.

Several years and another bike later, I was again caught by surprise on a blustery afternoon. This time, the ride to work on my Sportster had been relaxing. The return home however, was quite a different story thanks to unexpected gusts from 45 to 50 mph. I tried to stick to the backroads in the woods where there was a little more shelter. Inevitably, a break in the tree line would send me out into the open again to be walloped with another gale. I weebled and wobbled for a good 30 minutes, wondering part of the time if the driver of the van behind me was going to call the police and report me as a suspected DWI! Laughing about it afterwards at a local bike night, a bunch of friends teased me and said I probably wouldn’t like riding in the plains or flat parts of Texas. One buddy reminisced about a day-long trip he’d taken, spending the whole time leaning into the wind almost sideways to keep from being blown away. I can’t imagine.

Still, I dream of eventually getting the opportunity to take a cross country trip- different weather included as it’s part of the adventure of different sights. This season, to one extreme or another I’m sure we’ll get lots of practice riding in all kinds of conditions here closer to home. Practice makes perfect? I’d say any ride makes for practice that IS perfect!

Tired of winter? Here’s a band-aid!

A winter storm passed through this part of the country leaving everything coated with an icy glaze for a couple of days. Once the roads were cleared, people gradually got back to their normal routines. This time of year that usually means I’m commuting to work while it’s still dark. But a delay after a morning trip to the veterinarian’s with my dog meant driving my truck across a mountain as the sun was rising. I wish I could have taken pictures because I don’t think I can describe how truly incredible the view was. All the different hues of daybreak were reflected off the frozen trees, every branch sparkling as if thousands of twinkling lights had been strung throughout the woods. It was so breathtaking I’ve thought about it often, trying to make sure I’ll remember the scene and store it with other mental snapshots of mine. Small moments like this do so much to soothe the ache of waiting for better riding conditions. Even though I had to constantly watch for patches of black ice, and it had been several weeks since it was nice enough to get out on the bike, I realized how much I do love the beauty of all the seasons in the Mid-Atlantic.

Whether your winter downtime consists of a few weeks or a few months, at least it’s a good opportunity to get the bike ready for when it is riding season.  As I’ve mentioned before, there is value in taking a basic rider course from an organization like MSF. Not only will you learn important riding skills, but also tips on caring for your motorcycle. Although it’s been quite a while since I took the class, I can recall the acronym they gave for the pre-ride motorcycle inspection checklist: T-CLOCS, Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis, and Stands. I will admit, I have to search that on the web to get into the full details of each category. It seems there’s no more room in my brain to store them between those photos committed to memory and about 1,583,033,206 different song lyrics. Oh, and of course, riding memories! So even if you have to refer to a list like I do, or you’re so familiar with your bike maintenance routine that it’s automatic, make sure you take advantage of foul weather days to give your ride the TLC it needs. Nobody wants to wait out the cold weather only to miss riding when a nice day arrives because there is something wrong with the motorcycle. The same goes for finding out there’s an overlooked issue with the bike that leaves you stranded on the side of the road.

When I first started riding I was guilty of taking off without spending-a minute to look over even just the basics.  During a break on a ride through Luray, my buddy “Skid” was checking out my bike and noticed some sort of blemish on the rear tire. There was a cut in the tread that didn’t appear to be leaking air, but he didn’t like it. The tear could have been made by running over something that day, but because I hadn’t given the tires a simple once over before I left home, I couldn’t be sure. There happened to be an auto-parts store next door, and he asked me to go over and pick up some Fix-a-Flat just to make him feel better in case we discovered I had a slow leak later in the day. His girlfriend walked with me, and after making the purchase we decided it was time to have a little fun. I stashed the can in my purse, and asked the cashier for a band-aid so we could introduce Skid to the latest and greatest in tire repair.

When we got back to the bikes and I appeared to be empty handed, he asked if I’d got the Fix-a-Flat. I told him I couldn’t because they were out of it, but they sold me something they said was better and even easier to use. Brandishing the band-aid and doing my best to stay serious, I explained how I was instructed to place the bandage over the cut on the tire. Skid took the strip from me, looked at it, looked at the tire, and back at me, “WHAT?”

“Yes”, I continued. “They said it would work even better if I spit on the pad first. And the best part is it only cost 8 bucks!” Poor Skid kept staring at the band-aid; he turned it over, inspected it, and turned it back again. Finally he looked up at me with an expression on his face that was all too easy to read. He was trying to figure out how to tell me I was the biggest moron on the planet without making me cry. I couldn’t take it anymore, and burst out laughing, letting him off the hook. With spring on the way, I’d advise you to invest in a service manual for your motorcycle. Do learn the basics of bike maintenance and perform them regularly. Do carry a first aid kit in a saddlebag, with band-aids included. Don’t expect them to patch a tire, but they could come in handy for minor situations like bee stings or pulling a friend’s leg!

 

 

What’s on your list of “firsts”?

Happy New Year! I’m not one for making resolutions anymore. It seemed to become this grade school-like exercise where the assignment is to list a bunch of your petty faults, along with a set of rules to follow to fix yourself. Oh, and if you’re not perfect by March then you fail! No thanks. I do love to reflect on my favorite adventures from the past year and look forward to all the new experiences and “firsts” to come in the next 365 days. There are roads to ride, places to visit, and people to meet for the first time. If riding your own motorcycle is on YOUR list of firsts, make this the year it happens!

I’ve mentioned the lady rider who inspired me to get my own motorcycle before, and with the I-can-do-anything-attitude my mom gifted me, I knew it would happen. But, where do you start? My advice to you is the same I received; take a motorcycle riding/safety course. Mine consisted of a classroom session on a Friday night, then a half day of training on the range Saturday and Sunday, with testing at the end. Passing the course, which met requirements established by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, meant I didn’t have to take an additional driving test at the DMV. Also, there were discounts available from participating insurance companies after receiving a completion certificate. Since it’s been… a while since that weekend, I thought I’d check with friends who are, or were class instructors to see if the experience is still similar. Ruth was an instructor in Central Virginia and confirmed that the course is still much as I remembered it. Like me, she’d ridden as a passenger before riding a bike on her own. She explained how that transitioned into becoming a RiderCoach:

I dated guys with motorcycles in my teens and rode as a passenger, but hadn’t operated a motorcycle until 1998, when I took the Basic Rider Course (BRC) in Charlottesville, VA.  A couple of years after taking the course, I got a job working in the Albemarle County Public Schools’ Community Education Department.  The Basic Rider Course was one of the classes offered through Community Ed.  I learned more about what a great service the DMV-sponsored course provided the public by the positive feedback from students.  Most raved about the course, the RiderCoaches, and what a great experience they had.  By 2007, I had enough riding experience and decided I wanted a better understanding of the course we offered, so I took the Motorcycle Instructor course through the DMV.  It was intense; a couple of very stressful weekends of studying, gaining and practicing skills that would assist students to safely operate a motorcycle.  I was the only woman in that group of 15 men to become a certified RiderCoach.

Coach Rod is still an instructor through this program and was inspired by Ruth to take a class and then go on to be certified as a RiderCoach right along with her:

My inspiration to become a rider coach started at the picnic table of my best friend’s bike shop. Several of my riding friends were talking about taking the basic rider course. It was a safety class I guessed but had NEVER heard of such thing and didn’t know it existed. They asked if I had taken the course and I was like NO, I’ve been riding 30 plus years, never been down what have I got to learn? They had ALL taken it and said you might be surprised at what you will learn. Ruth was one of those riders and she convinced me to take the class. It was a gorgeous September day on day one and it went well. It poured buckets on day 2 and was cold and miserable! What I learned about myself as a rider was amazing. I was a lazy braker, (usually just the rear and the front if needed), my cornering was marginal. There was just a lot I was not doing properly. After 2 days I was a better rider than I had been my entire life. At that moment I knew I wanted to teach this class. It was fun, exciting and it just might save a life.

Rodman also points out where you can get more details on taking a class, “You can pick a class by signing up for the weekend of your choice at opendoors1.org or visit the MSF website to find the classes closest to you. VA has 350,000 riders. We add about 7000 more each year through this program. For roughly 150 bucks you get great training and a chance to learn on someone else’s bike!!!  You only need a driver’s license and the proper attire. We provide helmets and bikes. Under 19 requires a parental signature. It’s a ton of fun and two days of great work.”

Rod’s brother, Clark, also teaches the course! He explains, “My Brother got me into being an instructor after he had been doing it for a while. His conviction on just how much one could benefit from the course did it for me. After taking the class myself, I realized that I wasn’t the rider I thought I was. Always room for improvement!”

If you have no experience on motorcycles, even as a passenger, don’t let that deter you from taking the class. One such student stands out in Clark’s memories as an instructor:

This student came in with nervous enthusiasm. She knew in her heart she was going to get that Ducati monster after getting her permit. She insisted on a bike that was a bit taller than we would have liked but handled it with determination. She did well all weekend and had a near perfect riding exam. When we handed her the permit and gave her her score she gave us a huge smile and said, “So I did ok for never having ridden before?!” That weekend was the first time she had ever sat on a bike!!

Maryann was also inspired by a family member to become a riding instructor in Northern Virginia:

I have been riding since my college days. The summer of 1969. We used to go hill climbing when we weren’t in class. I had a 3 gear 120cc Suzuki. It had a shifter that would cut the gear ratio in half for trail riding. I raced TT Scrambles in Lodi, CA – on a 100cc Hodaka. I didn’t ride after my oldest son was around 2 until my kids were grown. Then it was only street riding. My son-in-law was the one who wanted to become an instructor. I went along because it sounded like fun. And it was! We taught a lot together. Lots of mother-in-law jokes. It’s a great course. Within 3 days I watch people who have never been on a motorcycle become decent and safe riders. That is the most fun. Watching the light bulb go on. Changing from someone who is afraid to lean the motorcycle to someone who can ride a curve, or swerve, with good form.

Anyone else in the area looking for more information on this class can go to nvcc.edu, and search for the basic motorcycle rider course. No matter what state, once you do some investigating, you’ll find a course convenient to your location to suit you along with awesome teachers like Ruth, Rod, Clark, and Maryann. One thing these four instructors have in common is their advice to new riders. All of them stress the importance of practicing basic skills and riding your own ride. In other words, don’t get pushed past your comfort zone by other riders as you gain experience.

These coaches have also mentioned that a big part of what makes teaching fun is when a student is successful, and they see the rider “get it” for the first time when it comes to learning a new skill. Be that student! Worried about looking “foolish”? Check out Ruth’s recollection of a student who stood out for the wrong reasons:

My most memorable event as an instructor was when a student came back to class Sunday morning with a hangover and still a little intoxicated.  While attending a party, he had passed out in a theater and wasn’t sure what happened to his riding attire. He came to class wearing Shakespearean tights, mismatched socks, colorful slippers, and a see-through mesh shirt that didn’t quite cover his belly.  He said he grabbed clothes from the costume closet.  He fully expected to finish the course in that state and seemed stupefied that we sent him away.  

After that example, I think it would be more foolish to stay home and not take a chance on yourself and reaching a new goal. I might see you on the range too, looking back on the fun I had in my own class, this might be the year I take my first refresher course!