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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A glimpse of the past, a glimpse of the future.

I saw the younger version of me today.

He was riding a little 250 Honda Rebel traveling the same route I take day in and out.  He was wearing a new helmet, a heavy jacket which was not designed to protect him in case of a fall...but it kept him warm.  He gripped the bars in a death grip, looking about.  I noticed his tentativeness in taking a turn.

I sat behind him in my full "official" safety gear.  My hands loose on the bars and I don't even think about the turn as I make it.  I've rode this stretch of road hundreds of time now, the lean angle is part of my muscle memory now.  Its curious how far I've come.

Will this young man fall in love with riding the way I did?  Will he put thousands of miles on his bike with the hope of putting tens of thousands on it?  I know the little Honda Rebel is a "starter bike" for many.  That within a year or so he'll desire more power, more speed.  I wonder if he'll end up with a closet full of helmets and jackets like I have.  I hope he does and like me, wonders how the hell he ended up with all that gear.  I hope he commutes on the bike, I hope he tours...I hope he falls in love with the road.

A lot of my friends on Google +, Facebook and blogs like this one have talked about being Thankful for various things.  It's the end of the year, the time I generally crawl into my brain and look back over the year...seeing where I was and where I hope to go. I don't make resolutions, I set goals.  I set goals of what I want to accomplish.  This coming year is simple.  I want to figure out how to buy that restaurant that Sue and I have been talking about for some time (10% off your final bill if you mention my blog).

I want to ride to the other side of Florida.  I want to take Sue on the back of the bike and head off somewhere for the weekend.  We have talked about taking a few days next year and go to Key West.  I'm hoping to get some secrets on good places to eat and see from Conchscooter.    I will be home in Pittsburgh in April for at least a week and a half.  I don't know how yet but I want to go riding in the hills.

We are slowly becoming friends with another couple that rides, and we may end up riding with them a bit more.  Only time will tell.

I want to ride the Green Swamp trail again, taking the more Northern route this time.  I hope to do that this Saturday if time and tides align.  I need to make the time, I must make the time.  I must ride.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The tire(d) post

Sometimes you need to get a thought out.  No matter what day, what calls to you, demanding to be let out.  It's 1:36 AM when I started this post.

I try to post a new entry to this blog about once a week.  Sometimes if something is stuck in the back of my mind demanding to be let out I'll update a bit early.

Sometimes I got nothing to say.  It's been one of those weeks where nothing has happened.  No epic rides off to places unknown.  No interesting stories; but I will write something anyway to keep the two or three people that read this regularly happy (Thanks Mom!).

Tonight it's tires.  A few weeks ago I rode down to a Buddhist temple for something to do.  I also had to check on a friends house and decided to do a bit of joyful riding as well.  Towards the end I heard a "POP" and pulled over to the side.  My bike tire had blown.

I was able to pull over quickly and realized that I had gone flat.  The good news was that I was able to keep the bike upright, it happened in a safe area (I had been riding on the highway before that), and that no one was on the bike with me.  Kimmie is good bike, she and what ever Guardian Angels I have kept me safe.  The bad news was it was on a Sunday, my mechanic could not look at it till Tuesday and the tire would arrive on Thursday.  So I missed out on a week of riding basically.

Tonight on the way home I pulled up to a red light and put down my foot...and slipped.  I run my foot along the surface looking for someplace solid.  The roadway felt like glass.  It could not have been cold enough for black ice?  No, I was in my regular jacket nice and warm in the high 60's (18 C)!  It had to be road wear, somewhere where the traction had worn to nothing.

Gingerly I moved the bike ahead and made the turn carefully.  Curious now to know what was going on.  Another spot at another light.  Now I was concerned.  Hitting a slick spot at any speed would not be a good thing.

Recently I replaced the rear tire with a Shinko product.  I was not that familiar with them, but at the time of the blow out due to some unforeseen expenses I went with a cheaper product.  Now I have my doubts if that was a good idea.  The tire is only rated for about 4,000 miles (6437 KM) and frankly I should wear through that tire pretty quickly.

Now I've a bit of a pickle.  Kimmie just doesn't "feel right" with the Shinko's on.  I know it's a perfectly good tire and I'm not experienced enough or an expert enough to say..."Hey this tire is good because".  I also understand that the tire needs to wear in a little as well.  I feel safe on it...but the tire does not "feel right" for what ever reason.

Which brings up a good question.  I replaced the tires on my Burgman three times (2 rear and 1 front) and used Pirelli Diablo's exclusively.  They came highly recommend by the good people on the Burgman USA forum and I figured they would know.    Yet what highly recommend for the 400 model was universally dismissed on the 650 model.  When I visited the Kymco forums asking for advice on tires the Michelin City Grip model was the preferred one to use on the Xciting.  Not so much on other models.

So...does it really matter?

Are certain brands of tires better for certain bikes?  Is it just a matter of personal choice?

Or does cost, quality of the materials used, tread design actually matter?  How does a new motorcyclist choose the tire that is best for them?  Is the all weather radial the best option?  How about the mysterious "Dark Side" where a motorcyclist actually uses a car tire?

How does one determine what tire is best for them?  I use my bike for my daily commute, so I need a tire that will perform well at highway speeds and in traffic.  Living in Florida means dealing with the heat and I need a tire that will stand up to that.  Also, do to the high amount of sand used in our asphalt and concrete mixes...slick spots will and do develop.  Should I invest my money in a tire designed for touring?  Tires designed for the rain?

In the end I suppose it's up to the individual rider what tire will work best for them.  Where there confidence, ability and yes, even their pocketbook will bear.  I know enough about materials science and engineering to know that tread design does matter.  That rigorous testing is done and done again.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Winter comes like a thief in the night.

Friends of mine up north post pictures of the first snowfall of the season on Facebook and other social media sites, a few of them put the bikes up for the year tucking them away in garages and sheds.  A few more hang on waiting for one more weekend, one more day to ride.

It's mid November.

I used to dread the coming of winter, the dying of the light.  The snow, the shush, the endless days of darkness.  Christmas provide some respite against the dread.  New Years and the Super Bowl a bit of joy to hold off the depression.  Still though, I felt my soul deaden during the winter months.

In Florida, winter is a different beast.  The days are still shorter, the air cooler...but the dread is gone.  Winter is the time I open up the house, get the yard work done that was put off all summer due to the heat and rain.  The seasons are flipped here.  Riding, which during the heat of summer can be a miserable affair, is easier and more enjoyable.

Sadly this weekend and last my riding has been confined to the usual commute, the odd meeting and a rather fun though cold jaunt with Susan on the back to a place called the Abby, where we were meeting some friends for lunch.

It was actually part of the golf course next to St Leo University and the Benedictine Abby.  I wanted to go down a bit early to get pictures of the place, Roadside America for example mentioned the unusual statue of Lady Liberty being carried by soldiers located on the campus of St Leo, and being someone who is attracted to the odd and unusual I wanted to see it.  The nearby Abby proved to be much more beautiful than I expected.

Other than that however I didn't do much riding.  Over the weekend I needed to catch up on my yard work and personal business efforts.  We are still looking into a new business venture and due diligence had to paid there.What I did do however was a lot of thinking as I put down weed barriers and mulch against the back fence to create a little sanctum.

Still a work in progress but looking better then it did.
This thinking was brought on by an interview I heard with author Allie Brosh who writes the Hyperbole and a Half blog.  In the interview she mentioned that as a 10 year girl she wrote a letter to the 25 year old woman she would become.  

It is an interesting idea, this idea of wondering who you will become.  Would the 32 year old me have believed that I would be living in Florida and riding a motorcycle? That I own my own business and considering starting a second?  Considering at the time I was working in Charlotte, NC and making good money as an engineering tech.  At that time I was happily married. Would that person would have guessed that at 47 he would live in Tampa, Florida.  Been divorced, remarried and seperated in that 15 year time frame?  That he will live in 3 different cities since then, undergo a bankruptcy, depression and nearly crippling loss?  What changes will happen in the next 15 years?

Will I still be riding?  Will the joy be the same when I find an unmarked road that takes me to places unknown.  Will I have stretched my proverbial legs and traveled out of state?  Will this business venture pay off?  Will I still be with Susan?  Still in my home?  

Some things are constant.  In one form or another I have always wrote.  Always dated woman that love to cook.  I have always had that wanderlust.  These things help define me.  No matter what the future's going to be interesting.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A ball of yarn (the revolution continues)

Before I begin this little article I need to explain how I view life.  Right now as I sit and write this my two cats, Tipper and Sparky, are playing with a ball of yarn.  They are having the time of there lives chasing it about, getting tangled in the loose threads and unraveling the yarn.   Some strings come apart; others are frayed and tangled, so much so your not sure where they begin and end.

What is more important?  The individual threads or the ball of yarn?  The ball of yarn represents society, the threads are all the various pieces that make up this crazy world.  Deep huh?  I bring that up because of the revolution what is going on right now in the motorcycling world.  While, that may be to strong of a word.  The forces that are acting on the motorcycling manufacturers are varied.  They have reacted in various ways, and for someone like me that likes to connect the various threads into a's been a joy to watch.

The mid range motorcycle market heats up with the introduction of the Harley Davidson "Street" group of bikes.  A 500cc and 750cc model which - despite much bitching from more traditional Harley riders - was a move Harley had to make to stay relevant in the market place.
Kawasaki enters the maxi scoot market with their J300 model, although at this time no US distribution is planned although I think that will change soon enough.  Honda is making a grab for a major chunk of the young urban professional market with there Grom, Forza and (highly modifiable) Ruckus models.  BMW exceed there projected sales of their "Urban Mobility" scooters by over 70% although no one expects that to last.  The Suzuki Burgman may not be the leader it once was in the maxi-scooter market and that is something Suzuki will need to address, and the reviews of the Kymco MyRoad are promising.

Suddenly it seems, there is a demand for mid size bikes.  Scooters seem to be leading the charge.  The question is why?

For one thing the traditional motorcycle audience is growing older, that much is obvious to all involved.  Sales have been falling over the last several years and  the industry needed to attract new riders.  Obvious again right?  There are other forces of course.  Crippling student debt for those under 30...lack of public transportation in most cities...the high cost of owning a car...people having to work 2 jobs just to make a decent wage.  More people than ever before are living with their parents, sometimes into the late 20's.

You contact the first two pieces of yarn and start to add the other threads.  You have to take into account other issues like the existing American highway system - your going to need some power to get from point A to B.  Your going to have to take into account gas prices and American sensibilities...the "Bigger is always Better" thought process that seems to define who we are.  Suddenly you have a large ball of yarn that leads you to one conclusion.

Any businessman will tell you that the group you want to advertise to is the 18 - 35 year old.  This is the age where, in the past, most of the disposable money was.  This is also the age where you establish brand loyalty.  If you start using product A at this age your most likely to use product A the rest of your life.  If your going to get someone on a bike this is the time to do it.

Advertisers and marketers are still singing the praises of the "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" commercials from the late 60's and early 70's.  Those ads probably did more to introduce the idea of a Japanese motorcycle to the to the states; they created an image.  An image the average joe could see themselves part of.   Items today like the Grom are seen as hip, fun and at a little under $3,000...very affordable!

The problem however is that this age group just does not have the same resources as it did ten or twenty, thirty years ago.  They have more options for what little disposable income they have.  A lot of smaller scooter companies realized this and took advantage of it.  That's one of the reasons if you look around in any city today you see a lot of little Chinese 50cc scoots.  The major motorcycle companies are jumping in into a market they believe will grow in the future, the mid sized range.  A lot of scooters are already there.

What's next may cause a heart attack in many traditional bikers, but the manual transmission is a dinosaur.  Expect to see more automatic motorcycles in the next five years or so.  A lot of people have cut their teeth on the automatic scooters, I don't expect them to change gears so to speak.

Personally I think it's a good thing.  I still don't think we will see the streets full of scooters like you do in Asia, but I do think the motorcycling segment of our population will grow.  The ball of yarn doesn't lie.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Buddha and me (and updates make 3)

**NOTE** At the end of my day the bike tire went BOOM!  You can read about that here.

When you’re traveling, it’s easier to let go of a beautiful moment because you know the adventure continues. No matter what rolls by outside your window, there will inevitably be more to appreciate when you get off the [bike]. - Ehren Prudhel from Tiny Buddha

When a friend of mine posted her photo's of a recent trip to a Buddhist Temple in nearby Palm River, Florida I knew I had to take the bike down.  I don't consider myself a religious person to any extent, but I've always had a affinity for Eastern Religious practices.  If anything I consider myself to be a lapsed philosophical Taoist.  Perhaps a Pastafarian Deist?

The chance to walk along the gardens and mediate, even for a few moments appealed to me.  I also enjoy Thai food which is a rarity for me, and they offered this for sale on Sunday mornings (sadly nothing offered peaked my interest).  

What attracts me to the Eastern Religions is the idea of wholeness.  At the risk of getting to philosophical, there is no separation between the mind and the body.  Diet and exercise (such as Yoga and Tai Chi)  are considered part of the everyday religious practice.  Sex is not viewed as a negative.  In fact, there seems to be very few negatives in the Eastern World view in my opinion.  Life may be full of pain and suffering, but it is just an illusion.  A wonderful, crazy, mind blowing illusion.

As I sit here and write this I can not help but think that is one of the reasons I enjoy riding so much.  The bike is not something I climb into and surround by, but rather something that I am part of.  A flick, a lean, a push or a pull and Kimmie obeys.  My scientific mind understands the control is just a illusion, physics will always win - I have faith that a cager will not cross the double yellow line or pull out in front of me.  There is a wholeness to riding.

I decided not to enter the temple proper due to the fact that I was in full riding gear, and I overhead a young man stating he wanted to say a few prayers for his deceased mother.  He did not need to have me walking about snapping pictures like a fool.

The grounds were rather small but there was a variety of exotic flowers and the riverfront was peaceful, I found myself wanting to come back during the weekday's and just sit and be quiet.  I also considered asking several monks to bless my bike.  Perhaps I should have.

The ride itself only took about 30 min and cover about as many miles on roads that I more or less understood and knew well.  I had been wanting to stretch Kimmie legs on roads I did not know, lately I've been feeling like all I ever do is ride to work.  While being a "scooter commuter" is all well and good it really does not challenge me as a rider.  Muscle memory tends to take over riding the same paths day in and day out.  While repetition may be good for Tai Chi, it is (in my humble opinion) not good for a motorcyclist.  While our attention will naturally fade on the back of a bike from time to time (just as it does in a car), I feel that our attention is sharpened on roads we don't know or ride often.  It's good to keep the mind active and awake when riding.  I'm glad my mind was active.  If you don't know what happened read here.

The ride would also give me a chance to try out the new "My Tracks" app for the smart phone.  I have been wanting a way to track and then review my ride to parts unknown.  You never know when your going to find that special road or roads that need to be explored further.  Or in my case a neat little winery or milk shake place via pinpoints!  This ride can be imported to Google Earth and then shared, which hopefully I did correctly at the end of this entry.

While I've not adopted the idea shown in the photo, I think that is going to be the next project.  Lately I've been meaning to go further and I could use my GPS and speedometer applications on my phone with ease in this set up.  Part of me likes the idea of seeing where I've been, the other part does not want to look back.  The camera on my phone could also take video if I mounted it correctly.  While not a fan of ride videos (which I find boring) I could see it use in some cases.

I'm not sure if I like the slow but steady move I'm making to an all Google platform.  I enabled Google + comments once before and it seemed that although my blog reached a wider audience, I received little to no feedback.  I would rather have the feedback, so if your unable to leave a comment PLEASE contact me via my email.  It's important for me to hear from you to determine what path I take.

Here is the URL to the ride.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


More to follow.  Don't worry I am fine.

The day started off beautifully.  I had been planning to ride down to a Buddhist temple a friend of mine told me about.  I rode down without issue, my GPS and new I-track application for my phone where syncing up. The sun was shining and all was right with the world.

A girl I work with asked me to stop by her house since I live close by and check on her home since she was on vacation.  Sure!  

I felt something give...a POP!  Then a wiggle.  Luckily I was at a low speed and on a road that was pretty empty.  I pulled over and found my back tire had gone flat.  

Funny thing is that when I was down at the Temple I considered having a monk bless my bike.  After all I thought, she is Korean and most likely Buddhist.    I decided not to, I was not sure how they would feel about that and was not sure if it was part of the tradition to bless an object.  It seems that I should have listened to her and had it done.

Lesson learned:  Always listen to your woman.