Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Old Peculier

The recent weather has my bike in the garage and me indoors preparing for Christmas. The perennial chores of shopping, cleaning, and bracing for the onslaught of holiday visitors have me running at full throttle. Shooting a little late night pool at Zeno’s makes that holiday list a little easier to take.

Wednesday nights at Zeno’s is bluegrass and Bar-B-Que, and after 10 o’clock, there’s an import bottle special. The Theakston Old Peculier from Masham, England is on of my favorites. It’s a Yorkshire Ale and rather smooth and deep. My friend Jonathan treated me to this one a while ago, and I try to do the same with new friends.

When you are exposed to something new, even something just a little outside of your experience, it has a lasting effect. The Old Peculier won't exactly change your world, but once that door is opened you begin to look at things a little differently.

I never intended to own or ride a motorcycle. But it happened. It's a pleasure to ride something so simple and well crafted that it has become a classic. It's a machine that makes an instant connection with people. I can’t wait to ride again. This weekend promises to be a little warmer. Maybe I can get out there and catch a little taste of something new, something different.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Passing the Limit

There are things that you notice when you ride. Other bikers drop their left hand when they pass. People ask about the bike at gas stations. The mind opens up on the road. You begin to wonder… is there an age limit for leather pants?

I like the way my leather jacket fits. I like the wind resistance. I like the weight. It just feels right. It’s practical, safe, and sturdy. So, why am I worried about leather pants? Is it a fear of being the guy that roams the highways in leather gear that should be on men half his age (and size)? Probably. What’s the rule here? How far away from your bike are you allowed to go before the racing suit just looks ridiculous—ten feet, twenty feet? Not that I’d go for the racing suit. However, there are things to take into consideration and this is one of them.

Since the weather has gotten colder, my riding time has dropped off considerably. Not from a lack of time or desire, but from a lack of suitable gear. I need pants, and I need them soon. I have squandered the better part of this evening looking at various makes and models of leather and textile (none of which are jumping out at me by the way). They all seem too tight, too disco, too bulky. And in the end, too much trouble.

I think I’ll just go with the heavy weight reinforced jeans with armor in the knees—simple, understated, practical. Let’s face it, there is an age limit here, and I passed it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hello and Thanks

The more I ride, the more people I meet who share the same interest. Motorcycles, scooters, it doesn’t really matter—there’s a common love of adventure and freedom, and a desire to better understand ourselves. I think the same thing is true when you blog.

I’d like to say thanks to Steve for giving me a mention on Scooter In the Sticks, and to everyone who took the time to stop by and give my ramblings a read, welcome. I hope to see you back here soon.

Monday, December 3, 2007

So It Sits

The cold has finally hit. Wind and snow have now dashed any hopes of another ride before the holidays. My bike—along with a dozen other unfinished projects, sits and wait for another warm day.

Winter maintenance looms and I’m not sure where to start. The bike is sound, but there are things that need to be done. Gaskets should be replaced, cables tightened and lubed. And what was that soft feeling in the curves? Could it be the front forks? Time to clean out the garage and make a couple of calls.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lost And Found

There are many things that can go wrong when you're new to motorcycling. Embarrassing breakdowns in gas station parking lots, stalling and dropping the bike while pulling out in a crowded intersection (Sorry, I won't be writing about that one for a while yet.), and of course losing the keys.

Thanksgiving morning rose warm and sunny with 50 degrees and clear skis. Perfect for one more ride. Unfortunately my keys were somewhere in my backyard. Or in the parking lot at Otto's. Or where ever they fell out of my pocket. Sometime after my Wednesday ride, after I garaged the bike, and after I ran errands across town, I lost them. I didn't realize this until well after everything closed for the holiday. Needless to say, I was a little anxious.

I began to retrace my steps on Friday morning. The backyard was a mess. A heavy rain and stiff wind had come in and scattered my remaining leaves, as well as the neighbors. The local strays had been using what was left of my piles as a community cat box. Who knew what was lurking under there now, and I wasn't relishing the idea of combing through it all with a rake. Besides, I had already checked the yard on Thursday. Nothing. So I headed out to Otto's pub and brewery. The staff was great. They looked everywhere, but found nothing. They took my number and promised to call if anything came up. By the way, their Red Mo Ale is great. Very crisp. Goes well with turkey and stuffing.

Depressed, I came home and began rummaging through pockets, coats, drawers, and toy bins (I have two daughters, anything is possible). Late in the day I began to accept the inevitable and started to read up on changing out the ignition on a slash-7.

Saturday morning promised another beautiful fall day, and I was still without my keys. A cold front had passed through during the night and the leaves had shifted. Tired of my brooding, my wife—who always finds things—offered to pitch in. We walked outside and there, in plain view, were the keys. Fortunately, I spotted them first. I don't know if I could have handled the added humiliation of missing something right under my nose.

I have lost a variety of keys over the years. Lockers, apartments, and just last month, the spare set to the car. Somewhere in the 20 feet between the driveway and our front door there is a set of VW keys just waiting to be found. And after today, I'm feeling pretty lucky.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Quick Ride

The weather held on Wednesday afternoon and I was able to slip out early for a quick ride. I don't ride as much as I would like now that the days are shorter. And for a new rider like me, this makes the late afternoon run all the more enjoyable.

I had initially planned on a short trip down a back road to Spring Creek. Usually I would be here with a fly rod. But today I was here for the winding road.

The more I ride the more aware I am of my environment. Everything comes alive. Subtle changes in temperature and visibility that would go unnoticed become relevant. A sudden rise in temperature on cold day can turn a 20 mile ride into 30. By the time I got home I had racked up 40. Not a bad way to start the holiday weekend.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hoping For One More Ride

The first snow of the fall has hit the ground here in State College. I'm beginning to wonder if my weekends will now have to revolve around things like cleaning the garage and basement.

Looking out of my kitchen window I seen the remnants of a full summer and fall. The grill and the canoe are now covered in snow. The leaves, abandon after last Saturday's day of raking, lay in soaked piles waiting for me to them to the curb.

This is the time of year that seems to separate the enthusiasts from the fanatics in the cycling world. While I'm wondering if I should get the bike ready for winter storage, my friends—those with younger, healthier knees—talk of off-road romps through the muck that these wet snows leave behind. Other riders break out the winter suits and upgrade to the heated gloves. Then there's me. I'm waiting for that five day forecast to come true and get in a Wednesday afternoon ride (60 and sunny) before the family invades for Thanksgiving. If I'm to maintain my sanity with eleven adults and five kids, not only will I need a ride, I'll need to make sure the liquor cabinet is fully stocked.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Knocking Off Early

Usually when I leave early it's because I'm trying to catch up from a long morning.

Tuesday around 11 a.m. I realized that the weather was turning. A miserable morning of wind, rain, and unscheduled meetings was breaking into a warm fall afternoon. I emailed my friend Pascal (he just bought a new Triumph) and we agreed to meet up for a quick ride. Over lunch, I ran into Matt (he's has a Honda 250 that he picked up from a MSP course) and that made three. Beating the afternoon commute, we were out of town on the back roads by 4. We managed 25 miles and were home before dark.

Riding back against the evening commute I realized how lucky I am to be able to slip away every now and then. Passing car after car as they head home I began to think about how great it would be to do this every day. To ride to work. I would have to exchange a 20 minute walk across campus for fifteen minutes of congested local traffic. I would be in line with them—eating their exhaust and waiting my turn at the traffic light. But the chance to ride on a moments notice if the weather shifts … very tempting.

My friend Steve lives out of town. He rides most days and has wonderful morning commutes with detours down back roads and country lanes. I'm pretty sure it adds a little time to the trip, but I doubt he minds. For him, every day has the possibility of a good ride, even when it's cold and miserable. You can catch his thoughts and his photographs at Scooter In the Sticks.

If I lived out, I'd be tempted do the same. Even get up earlier to log a few extra miles before work. But for now, I'll have to settle for knocking off early.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Doing Things Other Than Riding

My father lives in a cabin about a mile down a township off of route 144. I met up with him at the Sunset West (a little diner on the edge of Pleasant Gap) for a Saturday breakfast with a few of the guys that come up from Philly to hunt deer on his property. They drive up every year at this time to help cut wood for the winter, get the last of the hay into the barn, and shut down the nursery. In return, he lets them hunt for a few days in late November.

Fall with dad has a way of making me feel as though I never left Central Pa. It could be the smell of the greenhouses or the saw dust and exhaust from a two stroke engine. Maybe it's the cheap lager that he keeps in the bunk room refrigerator, I don't know, but it adds to the magic of autumn.

This is my favorite time of year and I'm ashamed to say that I haven't ventured out on the bike in nearly three weeks. Days like last Saturday were perfect, and we had a string of them here in October. I've missed riding, but is sure has been nice to catch up with my father after a long summer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Old Dogs

Old bikes, like old dogs, have a way of telling you that they don’t want to do what you want to do on a given day.

My original plans for last Saturday was to hop onto PA 144 and head out to Renovo, take in the Flaming Foliage Festival, and have what was sure to be the last funnel cake of the year. The bike had other plans.

I pulled into a gas station in Milesburg where I usually gas up before heading north. The air was a still cool, so I drank a cup of coffee and warmed myself in the sun before getting back on the road.

The bike started right up, then died as I began to pull out of the parking lot. No problem, clutch, break, feet down, try again. Nothing. Worse than nothing actually, it backfired—loudly. There is nothing more conspicuous than sitting in the middle of a gas station parking lot with a dead bike after a backfire.

I pushed it off to the side of the parking lot and moved it onto its center stand and waited. Hoping that in a few minutes it would change its mind and want to go to Renovo. I tried again, more sputtering and a backfire.

Eventually, I pulled out the tool kit and started running down the checklist of things that go wrong on an old bike. It’s a long list so I stuck to the simple ones. The ones that I understood. Things like spark plugs. The right one looked like it had just came out of the box; the left had some carbon build-up. I’m not sure, but I remember reading somewhere that on boxer engines, like those on my airhead, the left plug tends to dirty quicker since the bike leans left when on the kickstand and not the center stand. By now that little piece of trivia didn’t matter. I had a dead bike.

When I made the decision to buy and old bike, I expected something like this to happen. The bike, for whatever reason, would one day decide it didn't like what I was doing and want to head home. Eventually I did get her started and we rode back home. We took time for lunch at Mr. Hot Dog, and coffee at Cool Beans. However, it looks like I'll have to wait until next year for the Flaming Foliage Festival and fall funnel cake.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


There is a sense of vulnerability that is compounded by bad conditions. The morning fog here comes with a milky light and the promise of the unknown. It's all very mysterious and most mornings I find it a welcome site. But this day I was on the bike and I rolled into the fog before I realized how thick it was. Cold and dense, it clung to me, to the bike, and everything else. My visor wouldn't clear and droplets were forming on my sunglasses (which oddly enough were a necessity not two minutes before). I slowed to a crawl, 10 miles-per-hour. The road became slick, and visibility dropped to about 30 feet. I found a gas station, pulled off, grabbed a cup of coffee, and waited for the conditions to change and my body to warm up. Once the fog lifted I hit the road north and put in a good 40 ride.

I didn't give the experience much thought until I walked to work on Monday morning. The same fog had settled in and as I was admiring its beauty (and promising myself I wouldn't ride through this mess again) at about the same time one of my coworkers, a life-long rider and a fellow airhead, was making the morning commute. Somewhere on one of the low roads a garbage truck pulled out in front of him in a fog bank. He went down. Hard. Fortunately, he made it through, but his injuries are many and severe.

Riding is inherently risky, even on good days. Excellent conditions seem to invite a harder twist of the throttle. A clear line of sight adds confidence when skill isn't there. If an experienced rider like my friend can be taken down so quickly, how does a beginner stand a chance? I was out early on a Saturday and there wasn't much traffic. I was fortunate enough to find a place to wait out the conditions. I'm not sure what to make of the whole thing. There is so much to learn.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

First Ride

I woke up shortly after sunrise on Saturday and rode to Renovo, Pa. It sits on the west branch of the Susquehanna above Lockhaven. A blue collar town with an old boxcar factory and a past built on timber. A town of churches and (at one time) bars.

It had a movie theater, a hardware store, a grocery, several outfitters, and a men's store. The usual business line up that populated the main streets of small towns in the middle of the mountains. It also had a YMCA with a restaurant and a counter. My father and I would stop there for breakfast on the way north. The building is still there. Breakfast still costs less than five dollars. I had blueberry pancakes and a cup of coffee.

I love these places.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Back In One Piece

One-hundred-and-fifty miles spent mostly on four-lanes was not how I pictured my ride home from Lititz. The trip down took longer that I thought. By the time I was ready to head back, a headwind kicked up and some late afternoon overcast was on the horizon. Once on the highway, I was thankful that I had kept the liner in the jacket and added an extra under layer.

There a things you learn about in the motorcycle safety course that you don't think you'll need until later in your cycling life. On a summery Saturday afternoon, wind and fatigue are only concepts and don't really hit home until you've been on the bike for a few hours. Little things that were dismissed at mile 10 became causes for concern at mile 120. Things like cold fingers and a stiff clutch. The ache that sets in from holding you body in one position for an extended period of time.
The snot.

I loved every minute.

Friday, September 14, 2007


The past week has been hard to get through. A series of warm September days with blue skies, and me with a bike that's still not in my garage.

Since my phone call to Peter last week, my evenings have been spent paging through the Pennsylvania Gazetteer. I was looking for the back roads from Lititz to State College. Roads that I haven't seen since my grandparents would drive me from my mother's house in Columbia to my father's in Pleasant Gap on the third weekend of each month. Roads that we stopped taking after the interstates were completed. Roads I barely remember.

I pick up the bike tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

If it feels good...

Until last week, I had given up all hope.

The 75/6 in West Virginia was a good find. It rode well and was a solid bike. A good first bike. But it wasn't for me. I don't think it was interested in me being it's new owner. In the long run, the two of us would not have gotten along. It felt awkward, and after a day or two I let it go.

For a month it seemed as if all the slash 7s had disappeared. Craigslist, ibmwr, eBay—everywhere I looked—nothing. I was beginning to give up. Thoughts of putting my cash advance into practical things like a new bedroom suit entered my head—maybe something in postmodern shaker. I had to get keep looking.

Two weeks ago I found a well cared for slash 7 in south-central, Pa. I hit the road Saturday morning to check it out. Two-and-a-half hours later, I found myself at a small farm in the sticks outside of Lancaster. Apparently the local developers missed this little slice of heaven.

The bike was sitting on the drive waiting for me. It started nicely and rode like a summer dream. Testing out a bike on Lancaster county's back roads in a real pleasure. I don't know which part of the ride sold me sold me. Was it the experience of riding a well cared for bike or the anticipation of moving through country roads like this every weekend until the end of November? It didn't matter. For 20 minutes, the bike and I got to know each other. We connected.

I got back to the farm and talked with the owner for a little. Got his read on the bike and his history.

There are some things that you don't come across in reading about how to buy a used bike. The vibe you get from the seller and the bike’s environment mean a lot. Peter was great. A local high-school teacher and a gear head who was sitting on two other BMWs and a Harley rebuild. His garage was immaculate. No grease stains on the floor, clean tools, clean bikes. It was the kind of garage that you hope you'll have once you muster up to courage to toss the generations of accumulated junk that lines the walls. The boxes of stuff that you haven't opened since your in-laws dropped it off the day after they cleaned their garage. A clean garage counts when looking at bikes.

I drove home satisfied that I had found the one. I called on Tuesday afternoon and made my offer. Peter felt it to be a fair price and we cut a deal as I walked home from work. But as things go in my life, I won't be able to pick it up for another two weeks. Family and friends are coming into town for the Penn State vs. Notre Dame game this weekend. But that doesn't matter too much to me. I know that the bike is there, and it's waiting for me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You Can Get It Home Later

At the suggestion of my wife, I am buying a motorcycle.

The process is easy enough. Get the learner's permit. Take the test. Pass the motor cycle safety course. Buy a bike. And it's that simple—except for the last part.

It has taken nearly a year to settle on the make and model. Suggestions from friends, bikers, co-workers, and people I don't even know came in from everywhere. Make sure it has disk brakes. Buy nothing smaller than 450cc or you’ll out grow it. Dual sports are the only way to go. Are you sure you don’t want a scooter? Most were unsolicited, all were appreciated. Regardless, my mere mention of the intent to buy gained me entry into a community that was connected by nothing more than a desire to share a common experience—a love of the road. With all of this advice in hand, I decided on an old airhead. Their style and simplicity appear to be a good match for a beginner. It seems like a bike that won’t be too much trouble with and something that I won’t outgrow after a season.

There are several good sites out there that offer extensive check lists, ratings, and warning signs. I read through them all and had my script down. Look for gunk in the gas tank. Check the seals. Start it cold. Check the alignment. The list got bigger with every new site. I needed a better way.

After a kicking a few tires and taking a test ride or two I came up with my own system. Ask questions, lots of questions. Find out their best experience with the bike, and their worst. Why did they buy the bike, and why do they want another. The best answers come from finding out why people like to ride. Once they open up, you get the answers you’re looking for. Good riders don't want to sell bad bikes.

Worry about getting it home later. If you like it and if feels right; buy it on the spot. I lost out on a great R80/7 in Maryland because I waited too long. The seller's wife decided that she liked the bike and wanted to keep it so that they could ride together. They told stories of road trips to the shore and a long love affair with BMWs. I also got a great tip on a local dairy in central Maryland, Hoffman’s. It had the best hand dipped ice cream I’ve come across in a while. My daughter, who came along, was thrilled. Bill, if you happen to read this, I'm still looking.

Web finds don't sit around. An R75/7 (one of the best I've been told) in NYC could have been the one. Great condition, new tires, recent engine work, it was ready to ride. Did I mention it came with a set of Karuser bags? I found it on a Tuesday and couldn't get into the city until the weekend. It sold on Friday night. Randy, the owner, emailed me with the bad news Saturday morning. I should have taken a personal day.

Both sellers were great. One I met in person, the other via email. I asked a ton of questions. Stupid newibe questions-the kind of questions that would normally get an eye roll and a sigh. They were patient. They sent photos. They answered honestly. Maybe it's the airhead mentality, or maybe I got lucky. Either way, each new experience adds to my enthusiasm.

I'm going to West Virginia to take a look at a 75/6 this weekend. Maybe this will be the one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Change in Plans

Initially, I planned on moving through the back roads of Pennsylvania in an old F150. The kind of truck you see in the middle of the sticks with a cash only sign for $500. Rusty and faded, new or used, it didn't matter, the old Fords patinaed overnight. I grew up in these trucks.

The green '76 F150 that I learned to drive on still sits by the building that used to house the Big Trout across from Spring Creek. I've been waiting for the for sale sign to show up on it's windshield ever since I moved back home. Then there was the yellow stakebody that needed a can of either for the carb and a brick for the gas pedal in order to start on winter mornings. Summer time humidity would cause it to stall out. You would have to remove the gas cap to start it again. But my favorite was the one Pop had when he was the landscaper at the Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown. Forest green, with a push button start. I remeber being around 4 or 5 and sitting in the cab on summer days with the smell of two-stroke exhaust and freshly cut grass hanging in the air. In the fall it was leaves. Winter, coffee.

These were the trucks that I hoped to find. Trucks owned by old men who still ran trap lines and smoked Pall Mall. The kind of truck that would be perfect for hitting the back roads. The kind that would blend in, disappear. Then gas hit three dollars a gallon. I was going to need another solution.