Sunday, February 25
As we padded down the wide center aisle, I scanned for blue and saw her just as Milan pointed her out. A bit dusty, but otherwise looking full of herself. Parked next to her was a bright yellow SV650 and next to it, a red one both of which looked to be ‘01s. Milan told me the two bikes belonged to a couple. A BMW with bar end mirrors kept Queenie company on the other side. The whole thing made me feel that Queenie has been in good company during winter storage. I couldn’t help but imagine all those bikes coming alive when the shop closed, talking about the trips they had taken or wished they had. I have said I won’t place my bike in winter storage anymore but seeing Queenie among all the others, standing proud with two SV650s and a BMW, made me think that my garage would be a lonely place compared to Mr. Moto’s winter camp for motorcycles.
Late last week, Milan sent me pictures of Queenie sporting her new look. While Milan fretted about the quality of the pictures, I delighted in each pic as it whetted my appetite to ride my “new” bike. On Saturday, I visited the shop to see for myself and snap pics for the records. When I arrived, Milan retrieved the bike and unboxed the Givi side cases. They easily snap on and off the bike; they are roomier than I had expected. The windscreen is simply awesome!
Remember that blue SV bike that tried to pass for Queenie? Evidently, its owner had admired my old windscreen and learned that I would be changing it for a new one. He inquired about purchasing my old shield. Well, the shop brokered a deal and now the blue Barracuda windscreen will serve a new owner.
Today, we are in the midst of a snowy thunderstorm that exacerbates my yearning for the riding season to begin. When it gets here, Queenie will have a new chain and sprocket; new stainless steel brake lines; new battery; and new Givi windshield and luggage. Her entire lighting system has been replaced – she is looking mighty fine! I get by with a little help from my friends at Motoworks Chicago aka Mr. Moto, Inc.
Still, it amazes me that someone labeled “square” throughout childhood, now pals around with a truly cool motorcycle.
Here are some before and after pics of my gal pal, Queenie.
Tuesday, February 20
Carla King's American Borders (book review pending) is interesting, entertaining and refreshingly thought-providing. Generally, I'd have a book like this finished in two days but I keep having to put the book down to make notes about issues the book has sparked in me. Saturday, the book fueled a book store hunt for travel narratives by and about women. I then became side-tracked reading those tales. I'll save my comments about American Borders for the review but what I admire about it thus far, is its ability to anticipate its readers well. In other words, the book does not assume that the world is made up of women just because the author is female. Consequently, the book has tremendous appeal to both males or females. The camping author could learn a thing or two from a writer like Carla. Travel, particularly if you are a lone female, raises some issues that are gender-specific. What I love about this book is Carla's ability to see with a wide angle lens that allows her to consistently avoid the kind of myopia of the camping article writer.
I finally broke down and bought the boots of my choice. Last year, I purchased two pairs, one for street riding and one for touring. I ended up wearing both pairs a lot; together, they were cheaper than the one pair I just bought. This one pair, however, is a more all-purpose boot and I've rationalized why I need them. Motorcycling isn't cheap but Ive come to realize that it doesn't necessarily have to be expensive either. It's about choices, isn't it? This brings me to my desire for a "new" bike. I don't really need a new bike. I want a new bike. On most things in life, I am frugal and I now understand why people will spend irrationally on their passions. I will balk at the cost of women's clothes and shoes--because I don't fancy such things much. Not so with motorcycle-related clothes and toys. If it's our passion, it only has to make sense to us and our pocketbook. I plan to attend the BMW MOA rally this summer to test ride the F800 bikes and the R1200R. Seat-testing at the recent CycleWorld show went far to mollify my enthusiasm for these expensive two-wheelers. But the upcoming demo rides will be the final test. If I'm not "wowed" after the rides, I will stick with my sweet gal-pal. Period. After all, before all the bike specialization, bikes went where they were aimed. People do long distance riding on bikes far smaller than mine.
Given that so much of my riding begins in a congested downtown area, traffic lights have always been a problem. I understand that there are signal trippers that resolve this issue. If anyone has experience with trippers, tell me what works and doesn't. Are they even legal in all states? It is frustrating to sit at a light at 5 a.m. waiting and waiting for it to change or for a car to come along and trigger the signal to turn green. I've tried moving the bike closer to the grove in the street where the sensors are buried and all the other tricks I've read about but nothing seems to work. Usually, I end up checking traffic and proceeding when it's safe to do so. I have major fears with regards to Chicago's finest and I don't believe for a minute that they will care one iota about my reasons for running a red light, especially if they are on ticket writing quota duty that day. So, I'm looking into these devices and would appreciate any feedback on which one really does the job.
The weather here did a major turnaround on Monday. At 1:00 a.m. the temp was 13F. By 1:00 p.m. the temp was 43F ! Snow-covered streets turned to ankle deep pools of breezy water. Everywhere, sidewalks and streets reappeared. Although I didn't leave the house at all, I watched from my window as the ground showed through. The warm up is supposedly going to continue. I am ready to ride but know Chicago's weather tricks. Yet, I'm optimistic. I'm planning a first ride on March 10th.
This blog, initially designed to keep family and friends abreast of my whereabouts while on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, celebrates with today's "Miscellany" post its 100th entry. I've met a few new chums through this site and for that it has all been worth it. Thanks to all for ploughing through my ramblings, linking me to other sites, and for sending personal emails and posting public comments. For more ramblings, keep visiting. I appreciate you all.
Thursday, February 15
The Motorcycle Bloggers International have painstakingly assembled the “best and worst” of the motorcycling world. Consider the people and products that have put a mark on 2006.
Cast your vote here for the winners and losers! Thanks!
Monday, February 12
I attended Cycle World’s International Motorcycle Show on Saturday. And, it was all that—and a slice of sweet potato pie! I don’t know if suffering from cabin fever rendered me more receptive to the swarm, a rather large slowly walking throng, all drooling over motorcycles, waiting patiently (mostly) to swing a leg over, or if I was just in rare form. I was determined that nothing would detract from my joyful mission--even after remembering that I forgot my gloves that I wanted to don to ward off other people’s germs, I remained sanguine. I never hesitated to grasp the throttle and clutch levers on a gazillion bikes. Yes, I was in rare form.
I wanted also to take pictures that I hoped would make nice additions to future blog entries. I managed to trip the shutter 130 times and have posted most of the results on flickr. It is difficult to believe that I, true believer in asceticism and a practicing hermit, walked around the mammoth floorplan for 6.5 hours! I left the show with every intention of returning on Sunday. A reappearance never transpired. When my eyes opened in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I noticed something familiar. Whenever I travel by air or find myself in tight quarters with strangers for long periods, I get sick. The insides of my throat felt like it had been seized by gravel. Even thinking about swallowing felt like my throat was being scoured with a Brillo pad. I imagined little germy soldiers lining up to launch a full attack any minute. This would be the price paid for daring to venture out without protection. I can say this now: it was worth it. Frigid weather can make one desperate. Besides, as the adage goes, “no pain, no gain.”
I’m certain I’ll write more about the show in the coming days, but I did want to post the pics and mention a few highlights.
I think it was Friday that I went to Carla King’s website and learned that her book, American Borders: A solo-circumnavigation of the United States on a Russian sidecar motorcycle, was out--finally. While poking around her site, I also discovered that King would be coming to the Rosemont to promote her book and support the Urals. I couldn’t believe my luck! I would have been happy just to discover the book’s release date. I have read about Carla’s "misadventures" for some time—long before I bought my gal-pal. I wanted to beat the crowds I figured would be lining up for the book. So, I decided that my first goal would be to find Carla. (I have a very bizarre David Sedaris story about me waiting in line for hours to buy his book and have him sign it—but I digress). I located Carla King right near the Urals, sitting at a small table covered with a plain white cloth, nicely accented by two layers: a colorful, blue-purple-ish tie-dye material that peeked beneath a top black layer. A small stack of books sat at the table’s front edge. Carla, dressed in black sat at the table but I could tell right away, she isn’t the sit-down for long type. In fact, she soon stood up to fiddle with stuff, purse, books, look for a pen? I only remember her moving about before settling in her seat.
I always think it’s silly when people meet celebs and say, “Wow, you look just like you do on TV.” I avoided being that lame--I hope. Carla, however, does look like her writings, which are accessible, humorous and lively. She is clearly dynamic, inquisitive, open and has a very strikingly friendly face, the kind you want to talk to (I hope I’m not sounding too much like a groupie). I’m being as truthful as one can been when first meeting someone you’ve sort of met previously through their words. She has a persona that conveys a comfort folks often possess who have traveled a lot. Perhaps she’s always been that way; perhaps I’m just over-analyzing matters. IMHO, such people don’t know what it means to meet a stranger. They are engaging, gregarious and always seeking to go beyond the surface. I know part of that is being a journalist, but I’ve met journalists who lack this quality (I have a few stories about that too!).
Another show highlight? Custom-made ear plugs! If there were a tiny ear canal contest, I would win. Not only are my ear holes microscopic, they are angry. Stick something in and they will spit out the intruder, close shop and throb for days on end. Name an over the counter ear plug and I have it. Extra small, are not small enough. “Guaranteed to fit,” they don’t know my ear canals! I learned from the audiologist’s assistant that “racial” groups have different size canals and that the angel of the canal also differs across groups. I wish I had known that before investing in every ear earphone on the market before abandoning that struggle and wearing headphones. You’ll see the purple, pliable, putty-like ear stoppers in one of the pictures. I tested them Saturday night by wearing them under my helmet. After about ten minutes, I removed the helmet. The plugs had stayed in place; they had not fallen inside the helmet’s ear well and greatest thing of all, no lingering, pulsating pain after I extracted the plugs. I am happy knowing that I can now save what little hearing I have left.
Although tempted, I did not buy the Nolan N-102 helmet. Perhaps the deals were saved for Sunday. On Saturday, the prices were above some of the online deals so I resisted the urge to have it now. I did pick up more maps and the American Motorcycle Association’s, Ride Guide to America: Favorite Motorcycle Tours in the USA.
Of late, the weather here has been challenging. Relatively speaking, it is now warm outside at 28 F with a wind chill of 18F. Currently, a heavy, wet snow is blanketing the downtown area and we’re bracing for a winter storm over the next 24 hours. Compared to the 11 feet of snow in Oswego, NY—and more on the way, I shall not complain. I will even avoid whining about my sore throat. I remain optimistic that Punxsutawney Phil is right and an early spring is on the way. In the meantime, Saturday turned out to be the spark I needed to jump-start my mood.
I'm thrilled anytime I can combine multiple joys: new friends, new books, new maps and seat time on new motorcycles. I’m looking forward to the coming spring.
More pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shicksba272214/sets/72157594529330404/
Saturday, February 10
I should be sleeping so that I can put in a full day at the show but I think the excitement of the show has engendered a bit of insomnia, for which I think I may have found a cure. Those stairs you see in the picture...they've become a no-drug solution to bouts of sleeplessness. Funny thing is, if I do the stairs at the start of the day, it's like a jolt of caffeine directly in the veins. I'm bolted alert and feel as if I can leap tall buildings. If, however, I attack the stairs anytime after 6pm, I will drop off to lala land in minutes of sitting or reclining. I'm comfortable climbing 20 flights and descending 21. This is not easy. It takes about 45 stairs to comprise one floor. Descending is a lot tougher on the legs than ascending. But I'm not complaining, really. I'm seeing progress and there are some benefits to riding. What's that? Endurance.
The weights? I've always dabbled in lifting weights, mostly free weights and for the last year or so, I've been fairly consistent. I workout at home and alone. Why free weights? First, I think they force you to master better form. Second, machines require that I visit a health club, which always seems more like a visit to a meat market--I'm a vegetarian. I'd rather have my nose hairs yanked out than go to such places! I'm not the only one professing a link between fitness/lifting weights and riding certain types of bikes. A number of motorcycle instruction books advance a similar fitness argument for sport bike riders. Lee Parks, Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques," is one excellent example to check out for a discussion on "motorcycle-specific fitness."
I've been lifting weights long before my re-newed interest in motorcycling and I'm finding many rider benefits too. Sitting on a sporty-standard/naked is a lot different than sitting on the more laid back cruiser. My seating position on Queenie is upright. On a long trip, my lower back can scream and send shooting pain to my brain if I have been remiss in exercising that area. I must keep my thoracolumbar fascia strong, which is a challenge when the pain is chronic. I have no choice, I must keep this area flexible. Even though at times I don't want to move, I remember that the pain is far greater when I allow the stiffness to set in, then it's like trying to bend cement with only your mind.
On my SV650, my legs are positioned similarly to that of a bicycle racer. The peroneus longus and the extensor digitorum longus need to be sinewy, pliable and able to withstand being in a flexed position throughout a long ride. The entire group of vastus muscles need to be in top form. The balls of my feet rest on the foot pegs, as opposed to my legs being extended forward and my feet resting on floor boards. I need to maintain excellent soleus and Achilles tendon function to ride long with a grin on my face rather than stress on my leg muscles and tendons. My hands grasp the grips but it is important to avoid tension there or in my arms and shoulders. The neck region should remain relaxed because tense muscles interfere with facile movement, engender fatigue, restrict enjoyment and most important, preclude the body from being able to respond easily, effectively and instantly when a situation demands it. But a head is heavy thing. Add to it a helmet and the neck muscles are supporting a lot of weight over 300 + miles. We riders need to avoid jerky and stiff movements in favor of smooth, fluid, and deliberate movement. Yet we need to be quick, ready to swerve and brake on a dime. We can't afford to fight ourselves, which is what tight, tense and unfit muscle require.
Sitting at a computer all day, I have noticed that I have a propensity to tighten my shoulder area, specifically the trapezius muscles. Mine are brick hard--not a desired outcome by any means. I now try to stay aware of when I'm tensing that area as doing so affects all upper body responses. My throttle hand is damaged. Inside my wrist, extending to the lower arm is 6 inch titanium implant that holds my wrist together. In a couple of months I'll pass the two year mark since I "shattered" my wrist and broke my lower ulna (not a motorcycle related injury). Even though I do wrist curls and all the associated upper and lower arm exercises, my wrist still rebels on long trips sometimes. I have a throttle device that is supposed to ease hand fatigue but I've yet to use it--something about it doesn't click with me. I mean, I'm not convinced of its utility. Is it as easy to engage and disengage as the cruise control on my car? I've had a couple of nightmares about engaging the throttle gadget but not being able to release it. Scary, scary thought.
I think the point of all this is that while I've always tried to stay in good physical condition, the demands of riding my bike well require it even more. This I know is true: A strong body with good muscle function and good endurance will surely make the ride more enjoyable, particularly after putting in a 10 hour riding day. At the beginning of a riding season, a 100 mile ride feels more challenging than a 400 miles ride at the end of the season. If we've been riding throughout, we're in better riding shape by the end of the riding season. Our endurance has improved, our bodies have adapted and we can push ourselves more.
A major variable I've yet to mention is the effects of aging...I'm not who I used to be. None of us is. If we are lucky, "senior citizen" is the one minority group to which we will all become members. Running long distances now compared to even a few years ago is harder. I used to jog; now I plod. Each year the body changes, often surprising us in its swiftness. Unless you go the surgical route--no thank you--gravity will win out and muscles all over the body will begin to lose some of their elasticity and strength. Still, we have to forge ahead, do our part to maintain good balance, joint flexibility (standard bikes have higher seat heights than cruiser) and keep our lower back in good working condition--there is no pain like back pain--even child birth pales in comparison--IMHO.
I know for some this talk might seem like too much blather to think about when all we really want to do is ride our machines and have fun doing so. I get that. All I'm saying is that we can ride longer (assuming no encounters with insane cagers or mental lapses on our part) if we remember to lift, stretch, bend, flex, think, hydrate, sleep--and on that note.... if I'm going to enjoy the motorcycle show, I should get some shut-eye before I go.
Tuesday, February 6
Tuttle's quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, bears re-quoting for today's blog entry:
"You'll see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame."
"On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by 5 inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."
Tuttle comments that after reading Pirsig's words as a young teen, he never felt the same about riding in a car. After re-reading Pirsig 20 years later than my first reading, his words speak to me like few others. When trying to explain to people why I love riding a motorcycle, a very "dangerous" endeavor in their concerned, myopic minds, I've tried to compare it to the limited joy I feel riding in a car. Yet, I often feel I've failed miserably to convey my exact meaning. Now I can.
Thanks Tuttle for the reminder!
Thanks Zen Meister, Robert Pirsig for the book.
Signing off from Chicago--Sister City of Siberia!
Sunday, February 4
2. Read or reread the motorcycle classics. Dust off David Hough’s books, Pat Hahn and other instruction books. Re-read Pirsig’s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Helge Pedersen’s, 10 Years on 2 Wheels, Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s, The Perfect Vehicle: What is it about Motorcycles and Ted Bishop’s, Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books. Escape in the words of kindred souls…
3. Watch movies with motorcycles in them. Just this morning I was given a most unexpected treat! I saw a movie called “Silver Hawk”—totally unrealistic, hokey, post 21st century hi-tech and requiring few critical thinking skills--but sheer delight nonetheless! Think: female super(man), martial arts mistress on a BMW that she programs to come when summoned. The Beemer can ride with or without a rider. With a -2.6F temp and a wind chill of -19F, (at 8a.m. today) any movie—even one I would ordinarily deem unworthy of my time seems to transform into a masterpiece if it's frigid and a motorcycle makes an appearance. Google a list of motorcycle movies and see the bad, the good, and the really bad ‘cause it’s better than nothing.
4. Try to search to the bottom of the Internet for all the motorcycle and motorcycle-specific sites. Because there is no bottom, you’ll keep busy throughout the winter: WARNING: This can be addictive and you might need a 12-step program or a short winter to snap out of it.
5. Did I mention surrounding yourself with maps and musing about far off places?
6. Join a new motorcycle forum—no matter how many you already belong to.
7. Regularly visit your favorite independent bookstore or big chain and read the motorcycle magazines you don’t already subscribe to, which may be difficult if you subscribe to everything. If so, concentrate on all the magazines from the UK.
8. Create a long list of motorcycle farkels/farkles. Don’t let money hold you back; you aren’t required to buy anything—again, dreaming doesn’t cost a cent. Purchase what you can or nothing at all.
9. Order back issues of your favorite magazines. Don’t forget to read all those articles in your subscription that you only skimmed over when they first arrived. For me, these tend to be the magazines that arrived over the summer. I'm more deliberately selective in my mag reading then as I'd rather be out riding and I know I'll need these unread articles to pull me through the winter melancholy.
10. Invoke lots of exaggerated whining! Do this particularly whenever you look out the window and/or someone refers to weather. Then when the riding season starts, family and friends will gladly welcome the good weather and encourage you to hit the road. If the whining has been effective, they might even push you out the door!
Thursday, February 1
That Yamaha FZ1 is a beautiful machine!
Cycle World’s International Motorcycle Show will be here Friday, February 9th through Sunday, February 11th. My “must sit on” list is completed. It includes the entire new line of BMW 650s (the Xchallenge, Xcountry; Xmoto). (Photo of the Xchallenge from BMW_AG)
I definitely want to feel the thrill of the F800ST and the F800S to compare the two. Of course, I will check out the highly acclaimed BMW R1200R, which takes the place of my former dream bike, the R1150R. The R1200R
is lighter and supposedly a better bike on all accounts than the R1150R, which I thought was simply perfect. Of course, I’m salivating over the 2007 Suzuki SV650--I owe it to my '01 SV650 to check out its new sibling. The remaining list includes the Kawasaki KLR650, the KLX250s—I’d love to get dirty with these dual sports, and the popular Ninja 650R.
Yamaha’s FZ1 is a two-wheeled jet that I once had a ride on and loved every minute. A safety instructor took me on a ride on his and to this day, I don’t know why we didn’t take flight! It is too much power for my riding style—and skills—but I sure like its standard/naked looks. The new one has adjustable front forks and rear shocks, which means (to me at least) that this bike is ready for all kinds of riding be it on the track and streets. At the Honda pavilion, it’s the 599 that I want to sit on and daydream. The reviews always describe it as a great bike but they never fail to point out that it is way overpriced for this category and hard to justify buying when compared to the ton ‘o fun SV650, the Kawasaki Ninja 650R, and the Yamaha FZ6—bikes in the same “budget” middleweight category.
I’ll attend both Friday and Saturday although Sunday might be the best opportunity to snare some deals. The less vendors drag back with them, the better they like it, which means savings for the consumer. Last year, I picked up a 3/4 comfy Nolan helmet at a great discount. Good thing the USA distributor is in IL because I ended up having to travel to a far suburb to exchange the helmet, which they had to "rush" order to me. A loose seal in a critical area would have surely unraveled after a few trips. An excellent, comfortable helmet but I ended up rarely wearing it, feeling somewhat under-protected in the chin area. Instead, my HJC Sy-Max HJC became the one I wore all the time. The Sy-Max has served me well but I’m afraid it has sustained a few too many drops for its integrity not to be compromised. My third helmet, the first one I purchased, is mediocre at best and will be worn only in the event that a thief steals the other two and I need to wear it to a dealer to buy a new helmet! The sun visor on the late model Nolans eliminate the need to change visors—not to mention the great light feel of the helmet.
On my longest trip, I wore the lightest smoke visor on my HJC but even it was too dark after the sun went down. I took the clear visor with me but removal and installation are more tedious than necessary. It takes time, concentration, and a bit of yoga breathing to keep the frustration at bay. I thought of wearing the clear visor the whole time but then I would need prescription sunglasses, which I don’t own (that I can actually see with). The Nolan is a perfect solution to end fiddling with and carrying an additional visor. I’m going to take cash with me and the cheapest online price quote and hope that the Nolan folks will either beat it or match the price.
I will be on a mission for earplugs. Most of my friends know about my microscopic ear canals. Even the tiniest plugs are unable to enter my ears easily. When slightly forced inside, my ears accept the intruders but for seconds only, just long enough to trick me into thinking that they are cooperating this time. But soon my ears will pop the plugs out. The only thing I’ve not yet done is duct tape them in, which I have considered. Last year, an audiologist was at the show fitting riders with custom earplugs. I’m going to splurge to protect my hearing. I slacked off from wearing plugs at the end of last season because I nothing I purchased worked I tired of fighting with my ears. They remained sore and tender after these battles. I believe that relentless ringing I now experience in my left ear is probably related to my earplugs issues.
Finally, I’m hoping that the Road Runner magazine folks will be present again as I’m hoping to buy some back issues and talk to them about submission guidelines. I love that magazine!
The ride reports are consistently excellent, the pictures always seductive, and of course, the colorful maps are awesome. This is a mag I’d love to write for when I grow up. Eight days and counting…