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.