Monday, August 24

The Healing power of the sun...

Been dodging some curve balls lately. I won't complain. I guess if we don't get some occasional challenges we'll get out of shape and not be prepared for the really big stuff that inevitably comes along. 

Another sleepless night (well, I did get three hours). Woke up early and peered at the blackness outside. In the distance I could see a new day dawning. I dressed as fast as I could. Got my camera ready, geared up and left the house.     At 5:30 a.m., the road was whizzing by. 

As I rode northbound, high on LSD,* I peered to the east, my right side, and watched the sky transform from dark blue to soft reds and golden hues. Lake Michigan is east of the city. Any place along it, is a great setting to watch a new beginning each day.  (Click photo for better view)

My latest favorite spots to watch the sun present itself are near Wilson Avenue or Montrose Harbor. Wilson is best because the parking is readily available. When I arrived it was 5:47 a.m. According to the sunrise and sunset almanac, the sun would perform it miracle soon after 6:oo a.m. To catch the kaleidoscope of colors one needs to be on site early.

(Click photo for better view)

I found my favorite spot and prepared the Nikon D80. I waited while looking out on the lake, which still looks like an ocean to me.

I took picture after picture and in between I felt new energy as I watched the sun rise and the gulls' incessant racket overhead. By the time I left, I felt renewed. I had let go of the disappointment of having to cancel my weekend trip; I permitted myself to embrace whatever waited ahead today, tomorrow, next week.  Every where I wanted to ride, will still be there...waiting. 

*LSD=Lake Shore Drive

Wednesday, August 12

My first Track Day!

Three events have converged nicely to hone my riding skills. First, on July 26, I took an advanced street riding strategies class that stressed better braking, proper cornering and entry speed, and using lower body action to become a maximally efficient rider. Second, about a week later I came across an excellent book, Riding in the Zone: Advanced Techniques for Skilled Motorcycling, that I’m planning to review soon. Third, I was approached to participate in my first Track Day (TD) event.

I had planned to do a TD before the end of this ride season. Then on Saturday, while in Motoworks to retrieve my SV650, I ran into Johnny, the owner who asked me when I was going to participate in their TD. I said I wanted to and had planned to—sort of. This has been my response now for several years. He asked what I was doing Sunday, the next day. Actually, work had made me cancel my trip, so I was relatively free(er). He sprang it on me that the Motoworks sponsored TD would commence with a Sunday dinner gathering at Gingerman Raceway on Monday in South Haven, MI. Although caught a bit off guard, it didn’t take much to convince me that it was time to do Johnny's TD. I had one tentatively scheduled for September at the Autobahn in Joliet--but what the heck…

Had a nice, hot and sweaty ride up to South Haven on Sunday. Only the last 30 minutes of the less than 2 hours ride turned dark and rainy with an added benefit of a cooling wind. The dinner at Clementine’s was a chance to see familiar faces (the Motoworks staff) and meet a few new ones. “Thanks” to Johnny for picking up the dinner tab for the whole group.

Monday, 7:30 a.m. check in at Gingerman Raceway. The day began with registration, high energy snacks, bike prep and inspection, and track staff introductions. The event was taught by the folks at The instructors all seemed highly skilled and unquestionably competent. They were an engaging bunch and full of clear and easy to instructions to share. I was impressed with how accessible the instructors were. I appreciated that they emphasized safety above all else and underscored that the tone of the day was not about racing but about improving one’s skills at cornering and its related components. After introductions and spelling out the rules of the day we were ready to roll.

(Beemers were out in full force)

We were separated into groups by skill level. One of the neat things about this TD was that it was low keyed and non-competitive. About half of the participants were new, either never having done a TD or having only one under their belt. This made for a dynamic group, in my opinion. All told, there were around 50 riders with half being “advanced” TD riders and the other group consisting of varying levels of “Novice.”

Prepping the bike is quite interesting. Everything that could send a signal to the rider and those around him or her gets taped. This includes all lights, speedo and tach. Initially this seems rather extreme but soon the “why” becomes clear. One doesn’t need distractions on the track. Moreover, not having this information forces one to rely more on the brain and other sensory cues. Deflating the tires to 30lbs also made sense in that doing so increases the tire contact patch, which puts more rubber on the road.

Classroom meetings: Each ride session was approximately 30 minutes followed by a classroom meeting. In class, we listened and learned things about the track, heard strategies for maintaining clean lines, and asked for assistance on specific track challenges. We learned about tricky corners and how to enter and exit them; we even heard a bit of physics on how bikes behave when leaned, when given more or less throttle and how body action works for or against one’s efforts. Bright orange cones, located throughout the track were demystified and explained as more than place holders but as valuable pointers for executing turn-in and noting an apex; we learned to use visual cues as aids in honing our developing cornering skills.

The Track layout: We began by following our instructor, whom we shadowed on the inner line, the outer line, and then the race line of the track. Each line requires an adjustment on how good cornering is accomplished. I found some of my pre-lunch runs better than some of the later ones. Adrenaline might be the reason. I had made goals the night before that this was going to be about my own improvement. Nothing more. Nothing less. I will never be the fastest rider on the road. It’s not a goal I covet. I do, however, want to be highly skilled and competent on the road, to be in control no matter the road challenges I’m likely to encounter. So, I happily settled in or near the back of the queue for my group.

The track is fast—or so it seemed to me. The ground, which I should not have been looking at, whizzed by at shockingly extreme speed, which was mostly mental as I never got out of third gear—but I never ran in third gear THAT fast and THAT hard before! Regardless of the actual gear the bike was in, we were moving FAST!  The speed definitely required one’s full concentration as the track’s challenges were inspiring, surprising (at times) and ongoing. Getting lazy in any one area could lead to trouble down the road, so to speak. Although the 30 minutes time slots on the track always seemed to fly by, being in the zone, in such an intense way demanded huge chunks of physical and mental energy. Remaining focused, hydrated and responsive on such a hot day, added to the TD demands.

On the track, some turns/corners seemed effortless but it was not something one could count on. One easy corner turned out to be a tricky set up for the more challenging ones down the track. I learned early on that the corners could never be taken in isolation. One had to consider the track as a whole. Corners are linked in that how one enters one corner can make or break the next. In other words, it was necessary to set up properly for corner "A", because it could determine how one handled corner "B" and so on. That’s not to say one can't make corrections. But it does say that it’s easier to do the cornering correctly so that the road doesn’t become one big struggle to survive each turn. The only way to deal with this well is to ALWAYS be looking ahead, always be aware of what is coming up on the road so that you can set yourself up properly. For those blind corners, well, if you're in the correct position on the track/road, you can even handle these blind corners well by being in a good lane position to act swiftly when you finally can see around that corner. Constant scanning is exhausting work as is being on high-alert every minute of a ride.

(Some of Motoworks' staff)

One of the biggest lessons I learned was trusting my bike to execute my input. As someone with a huge investment in my brain, I tend to deliberate before I’m willing to commit to an action. Motorcycling often requires quick judgment. Yet, some things seems counterintuitive. Like counter steering. In the early days of learning to ride, counter steering seemed (b)ass (a)ackwards. Now, I can’t imagine why that concept once gave me pause. On TD, I realized that while I have no problems leaning, I was not as quick to roll through all corners—particularly at the more extreme lean angles--I was conservative at best. The thought of giving it more throttle at such times seemed crazy. I learned that this inability almost always meant that I had entered the corner too fast to begin with! The bike behaves better when one can enter the corner a tad slower, start the lean and roll completely through.  On baby, moderate speed corners this was a non-issue. But on faster corners, that came at me in a flash, and required sharper leans even a split second of hesitance is not good. I began trying to decidedly and consistently roll through each corner, more and more, and by the afternoon, I got it. This is huge for me. I thought of my Suzuki SV650 with its light weight and high fun factor and realized that it would be a perfect TD bike. I made a mental note to use it next time. I must admit, I had to shake off thoughts of damaging my ST. Perhaps that’s good for it kept my focus totally on the task a hand, so much so that I think I gave myself a headache by the afternoon.

I marveled at the advanced group. I saw people dragging their knees. I saw people who looked like they were sitting on the side of their bike they were hanging that far off the seat. I’m not sure I ever what to join their ranks but I leaned farther that day than ever before on my bike and I am confident in trusting it to respond to inputs from my throttle, handlebar and body shifts.

Throughout the day, the classroom continued to be a place of wise instruction and check in on the track experience. I asked a question about turning wide in one particular corner. The instructor told me what to do, he stressed being aware of my cornering line. The outside-inside-outside we learn during early motorcycle instruction, works in many circumstances. But one can’t apply that to every corner. I had been using the cone as the point at which I executed my turn in but consistently was going wide in the same corner. He told me to watch my entry. Am I turning in too early or too late? Am I leaning too much? He suggested I follow a delayed apex line, that I should travel a little pass the cone, look well into the corner and quickly execute the turn in. It was the quick, deliberate execution of the turn in that worked. All this while not focusing directly on the cone, of course. Bottom line, slow down the entry, look through the corner, commence the lean and throttle through the corner. It’s what I’ve read from other as: the slow in and fast out method.

(The Suzuki Gladius 650)

This brings up something that is powerfully examined in Ken Condon’s new book and included DVD, Riding in the Zone. In it, Condon emphasizes the importance of visual acuity, that is the ability to read the road, use one’s eyes to make a host of determinations about what is observed on the road, when to initiate one’s plan for safe riding and proper execution and knowing at all times the best lane position for conditions. Condon’s stresses that our eyes are not only for looking but for seeing, which are not necessarily synonymous.

(Holly's too cute trail bike!)

I ended my TD a little early only because I managed to acquire a headache. On my last run I found myself paying more attention to my brain drain than the track. Time to get off. I had a fabulous time, a day full of learning and getting outside my comfort zone. We improve by stretching our limits in a safe and controlled environment. As I packed up for home, I thought, “I’m impressed. I’m getting out of here without anyone asking me anything about my hair or making some ridiculous hair comment. But before I pulled off, four people separately made a hair inquiry. “Yes, it’s my real hair.” “No, it has never gotten caught in the chain--my bike doesn't have one.” “I’ve had locks for more than 10 years.” “No, they don’t take a long time to ‘braid’” 

Still, it was a special day and I’m looking forward to returning next ride season.

(Thoughtful of them to match the tape to my bike) 

I rode home that day with renewed confidence from having participated in my third rider skill building activity in weeks: an advanced street riding course, reading a new skills book, and my first Track Day. It’s all about riding with confidence and competency and an ongoing goal of increasing skills mastery. Do a TD, it stretches your riding muscles.

Monday, August 10

It doesn't get any better than 3 in 1...

Another canceled weekend trip turned out to be a very good thing. On Saturday, I was able to ride all three bikes. I used the ST to do some general errands. Afterwards, I dropped by Motoworks to retrieve the SV650 to take home to the suburbs. When I arrived, I took Dave's BMW F650GS on a little trip (still helping out to keep the GS running well). This is tough work (hehe).  Riding three bikes in one day is pleasurable beyond description. Each on required a different touch: the throttles had unique personalities. The ST is smooth, even and tame. The SV is twitchy, itching to go and a tad on the wild side. The GS is jeepish, solid and gets the job done without the drama of the SV, for example. Friction zones too have different personalities with the GS being the most forgiving--from a dead stop, it pulls in second gear without hesitation--the ST will too but it doesn't like it. The GS and I headed for Kankakee River State Park in Kankakee, IL.
I avoided the Interstate in favor of back roads and long stretches of emptiness and sweeping curves. Corn and soybean fields lined each side of me much of the way. 

For the most part, the roads were devoid of traffic. At times, the isolation was interrupted with an attractive old farm house or a fancy, modern mansion sitting on vast land. The GS seems made for roads like these. The road shoulders are replete with gravel that I didn't find objectionable. I never hesitated to pull over in because the bike enters and pulls away easily from such shifts in road surface.  I think these roads will make for some nice early morning photos and I made a mental note to return in the near future.

When I arrived at the park, I spent a little time at the river. I parked near another motorcycle because that's where an empty space existed. Had I known what was in store for me, I probably would have parked farther way. As I turned off the bike a couple sitting at a park bench turned. I thought the man was saying something but I couldn't hear him until I removed my helmet. He looked like he belonged to the Harley Davidson I parked next to. 

"Hey, aren't you hot with all that stuff on?" He motioned to his head and body. 

I hate when this happens. I mean, I don't ask folks anything about the gear they wear or don't wear. Why do I seem to always get people who shun gear asking me about mine.  It bugs me.  His voice is not questioning, it's more of an accusing statement. Inside I want to tell him to leave me alone. Instead, I just say, "No, I'm not, I'm fine." Frankly, I am ATGATT (all the gear, all the time). If I were burning up, sweating profusely, ready to drop of heat stroke, I'd never admit it to people who adopt that tone with me. It was a warm day but donning weather appropriate gear is possible. It requires an investment of money to find the right gear and a commitment to wear it. Period.

I reversed my route and headed home. While on one of those lonely roads, I thought about why I love solo riding so much. I am able to ride my own ride. Whenever I've ridden with Dave, for instance, I am paying attention to him and thus slightly distracted. My thoughts are interrupted as I watch him for and ignore the rode. Out there alone, I quickly settle into my own zone; I self talk about the ride and potential hazards; I vary my speed; I stop when I want; I do not need to synchronize my nature calls with anyone else. Solo riding. It's all about me and that's not a bad thing.
Stay tuned to hear me yak about Monday, my first Track Day of fun-filled learning.  

Monday, August 3

Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive on the BMW F650GS

Sometimes letting go is the only thing to do. I had another 1000 plus miles weekend planned. What I have to show is roughly 320 miles on the GS and less than 50 on the ST. Recall, I'm in the BMW mileage contest--I think, which is another story I'll save for another time.

Saturday I had research on the Underground Railroad planned that would take me to Indiana and OH. Excitement? Anticipation? Anxiety? I don't know. But I didn't sleep Friday and by 4am Saturday morning, just two hours from the time I wanted to depart, I was sleepy, cranky, and bewailing the insomnia that seems to have a stranglehold on me. I canceled the trip and for the rest of the day dragged around, doing an incredible performance of a zombie that was nothing short of academy award winning.

Sunday, I would spend the day with Dave's new BMW F650GS, the twin engine, detuned 800cc. His knee problems have him temporarily sidelined. I am going to hang in there and make this sacrifice to help him out by doing the honorable thing and helping to take care of his bike. It's tough work, but I'm willing to go the distance. Dave, I've got your back--or is that "...your bike."
I was up early preparing the bike--probably should have done that the night before. But we have our rituals. Well, my Cortech tank bag couldn't be attached properly. Neither did a second tank bag I tried. It took close to an hour of frustrating fiddling. Dave's tank bag is a towering top hat sort of bag, which is simply not to my liking. I rigged up my small tank bag, which sat cock-eyed on the tank. I departed almost two hours later than I planned.

Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive (KMSD) has been calling me for a a long time.
It starts near Whitewater and ends about 115 miles northerly at the Sheboygan Marsh near Elkhart Lake. I'm more than 100 miles away so getting an early start is key. To me, it is never too early to head out. I live for those times, where I can motor along without all my defenses on extreme high alert, a time when the streets are quiet, almost barren. Some are entirely devoid of cars, which can feel like I'm alone in the world. I can settle back a bit and enjoy the hum of the F800ST engine, take in the smells of nature--alive and dead-- and the observe landscape whizzing by. It's a time that also brings out deer in search of breakfast.

I decided to take the back way to WI, avoiding the Interstate and tollway. Any chance I get, I will do the northern portion of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, which carries me through some of Chicago's finest neighborhoods. It's the route I like most because it winds along Lake Michigan, allowing gorgeous views. On an early Sunday morning this normally congested route has few cars but in place of this are bicyclists--tons of them. They are ubiquitous! They ride solo and in packs--sometimes four abreast, taking up 3/4 of the lane with impunity! As a former bicyclist, I always wave and give them their space. In addition, motorcyclists were out in droves Sunday. Before losing sight of the lake, I saw a beautiful doe in Winnetka, appear instantly on the street. She looked lost and confused as she pranced across Sheridan Road. I wished her safety and kept moving. Probably etched in her DNA is residue memory that what is now Sheridan Road used to be prime foraging ground before the humans came.

It took more than a couple of hours to reach WI but on days like this, when the weather is perfect, time is never really an issue. Still, by the time I located the start to being the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive, the chances of completing the entire course were fading. In all, I did approximately 1/4 of the KMSD but that was enough to assure my return to do the complete route and the Holy Hill side trip. The KMSD is made up of several units within the Kettle Moraine State Forest, which covers thousands of acres of land. My ride was limited to the Southern Unit. The roads are replete with long sweeping curves and rolling hills. Motoring along quiet county roads like "H" and "ZZ" "VV" are nothing short of amazing. County road C is a favorite. Look for the green and white acorn shape signs and follow along. At times that's challenging but even getting terribly lost on these roads is fun. Just let go.

Let no one say that the Midwest is only flat and straight. The KMSD demonstrates advancing and retreating of the Wisconsin glacier thousands of years ago. The diversity in the landscape is breath-taking. The road curves, sweeps, has rolling hills and beautiful cliffs. Moraines that are hundreds of feet high can still be seen in the area. It is worth a stop at the Kettle Moraine State Park, where the history of the area can be demystified.

Along the route one encounters interesting historical sites and enough quaint stores and shops to help break up the isolation of the county roads. I should have snapped a photo of one obviously popular place where a bunch of bicyclists and motorcyclists co-existed over ice cream or a cold beverage.

Although there are plenty of photo ops on the site, I didn't take many. Pulling over on many of the roads takes considerable care as many of the shoulders are filled with sand and gravel, which makes sense given that moraine are comprised of gravel, rock and sand. Curves can be tricky in spots and stopping requires careful footing. I settled back and just enjoyed the ride. I plan to return soon. I realize now this trip warrants an overnight stay so that I'm ready to roll in WI the day of the ride and devote an entire day to riding all the units. Stay tuned.

I rode enough to do a little review of the F650GS, which I'll post in a few days. I will say, it is a fun bike with great ergos and enough power to hang with the big guys. It has, without question, a tortuous stock seat. More later on the incredible GS twin.

Mileage: 320
Fun factor: 8 out of 10
Letting go: 10/10