Sunday, July 31, 2011

Final Drive: Much ado about nothing

No, this article is not about Shakespeare, nor is it about nuptials either. In fact it's more like Seinfeld, in that it's not about anything in particular.  So instead of a show about nothing, it's a column about nothing or much ado about nothing.

I usually have an article idea days or even weeks before I write. For some reason, I couldn't come up with any ideas this time around. Like a student frantically trying to remember the answer to a test question, the harder I tried, the more elusive it became. May be it's because I may have pissed someone off with my last column, or may be I may have run out of ideas. Lord knows I don't want to piss anyone off, but it is one of the few things I am good at.

That said, on this Sunday morning, I decided to write about nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but with no plan or should I say no destination in general, other than getting it done. Right now my thoughts are on a trip I am planning to go on in three weeks time. In fact, in three weeks, I should be in Oregon at this time. On the Friday before, I will have left home with a friend, Tom, AKA TRosco, on a trip to the Rally in the Redwoods. Tom and I used to be owners of Kawasaki Vulcan Nomads and members of KawaNOW or Kawasaki Nomad Owners World-wide. We still participate in discussions on the KawaNOW forums even though I have moved on to a BMW and Tom has moved on to a Gold Wing. This trip has been in the planning for some time, my having made reservations months ago, but it hasn't hit home until now. Last weekend I did some preventive maintenance on my R1200RT, changing the oil, transmission gear oil and final drive gear oil. The only thing left is to decide if I need to replace the tires now or later. With 4000 miles on the bike, the tires are not nearly done, but could be sometime during the trip as we will be riding 4-5000 miles in nine days. After looking at the tires, I think I will be ok. If worse comes to worse, I can stop in Salt Lake City on the way back or Medford Oregon to have the tires replaced. BMW dealers are pretty good at servicing motorcyclists on the road.

Devils Tower
Still, I have apprehensions about the trip. My longest motorcycle journey before this one was a ride out to the black hills a couple years ago. That was 665 miles each way, doable in one day. This will be a real test of my motorcycle and myself. Tom and I want to make Rawlins Wyoming on the first day. That is about 750 miles. The conventional wisdom here is that it will make the rest of the trip shorter for each day, with the last day being less than 300 miles. Can I do it? Then there are the groups rides for three days. I may take a day out to visit a friend in Arcata and then there is the ride back. I have my doubts about the bike and myself. While BMWs have a storied history of reliability and have their own motto of "Unstoppable", I've also read about other people's trips that didn't quite turn out that way. Then there is my own history with that Custer trip. My ass hurt for a week after that. I am wondering if I am in for quadruple the pain. All I remember is upon arriving home, I sat in my comfy chair and it felt like I was still riding the bike. For quite some time.

So, instead of focusing on the negative, for which I have a special talent, I really should look at the upside. I will have nine days to really hash things over in my mind, allowing for a continuous autodidact of my current situation and decide on what's next. I am the type of person that needs time and space to reflect on things in order to make a good decision. It's not that I cannot make good snap decisions, I can in emergencies, but with my current opportunities I need a little more time, clarity and focus. This trip will provide me with those opportunities. I also hope to meet new people, make new friends and some connections too, as I understand that representatives from Kawasaki will be there. It really is an opportunity on so many levels, with the common theme of proving myself, if for no one else but myself. If there's one thing I can tell you about reaching middle age, it's that there is a frustration where the fire burns inside and the desire to say "I am" burns strong, yet the body isn't as willing and the mind isn't as confident. It's not so much a crisis of age per se, but one brought about by the realization that there are fewer days ahead than before and upon examination, things haven't gone as well as we planned. In my own case, couple this with some health issues (cervical disk issues) that have to be addressed soon and have had an impact on my strength. As a physical person who not that long ago felt immortal and unbeatable, I suddenly feel vulnerable. In spite of this, the fire IS still there. Some may say the heart is the last to die, when at that point, acceptance is the only way short of a self-imposed post-life experience facilitation. Lets hope we pick door number one.

So, here I am on a Sunday evening, wondering what to write about, where I am going, and what I will do. Much ado about nothing? Not really, but at least I know I did write, I will go and that I will do something. Things are always better on a motorcycle anyway, no? I think so.

Thank you for reading this blog.


I welcome and wish good luck to Eurosport of Asheville, which is opening this week. They are a new BMW dealer in North Carolina. Good luck Justin and Thomas.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Final Drive: Groupon or Groupoff?

If you ride motorcycles long enough, you will learn about group riding. Some might consider it a rite of passage, while others consider it a necessary evil, to some may be both. Group riding, as the name implies, is riding with more than one motorcycle together, usually with a common destination. Unlike solo riding (there are rules, but they seem more fluid), there are specific rules to group riding that participants should follow. The basics are that the motorcycles are ridden in a staggered formation. I am sure you have seen it: Dozens or more motorcycles riding staggered, many times Motorcycle Clubs going on some run. The leader, also known as the "Road Captain" or "Lead Road Captain", leads on the left, near the center line. Here is a picture:

Rose City MC

The riders maintain two seconds distance from the rider directly in front of them and one second from the rider diagonal of them. The last rider in the group, is sometimes called the tail-gunner or "Sweep Road Captain", rides in the middle of the lane, not in the left or right of the lane as shown here:

Sunset Hogs
If the group is large enough, there will be a Middle Road Captain. Slower riders are usually put in the back and if the lead captain is sane, the group will be broken into smaller groups when the number gets much more than a dozen. Unfortunately, this is not the case many times and it can get hairy very quickly. I have ridden in groups as large as 38 motorcycles and it was an experience I will not soon forget. There was rain, grades as steep as 12% and speeds at or greater than the posted speed limit. In general, I don't like group riding. To me it's like herding cats. Why bother? As a group, motorcyclists or bikers are supposed to be the most individualistic people in our society. You'd think they'd be more inclined to ride solo, but like hungry cowboys hearing the ring of the dinner bell, when it comes to a group ride, they respond. It's a dichotomy that I may never understand. 

I do ride with a group once a week during riding season and while the number of motorcycles are relatively small, usually from 8 to 12 motorcycles for a given ride night, I still find it frustrating because of not only the too diverse riding abilities, but also expectations in terms of riding style. Many times it's like riding in a funeral procession, and depending on who is leading, it can mean that we will ride 60 mph on the interstate, yet exceed the speed limit on back roads. Of course you're saying "he's a malcontent that doesn't lead", but I tried that too. At the time, the person that normally led the group was in number two position and when we hit a 4 lane highway with a 65 mph speed limit, I decided to go 60ish and I looked in the mirror to see the normal road captain going what was 50 mph if that in a 65mph zone, with the group falling behind. First off, this is dangerously slow for the road in question and whatever lesson that was intended didn't sink in. After than I never led again, nor will I, at least with that group. Life is too short to willingly deal with control freaks.

I guess my point here is that while there are specific, useful and necessary guidelines to riding in a group of motorcycles, you really need to assess your needs and riding style before taking off on a ride with a group. I would also suggest that anyone assess their riding abilities as if bad things happen, it's not just you. Group riding isn't for everyone and in spite of my protestation and complaints, I still ride with a group once a week as I have a good time with the people involved once we make it to our destination (food based) and my oldest daughter likes to ride pillion too.

So, is it group on or group off? You decide.

To those that are members of BMWMOA and read ON Magazine, I saw the article on group riding (much to my dismay as I had this in the pipe over a week ago), but I have not read it yet. Now I will.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Final Drive: The Botway Factor

In my Father's Day piece, I left out one person that deserves as much credit as any of the rest in fomenting motorcycling to me. It wasn't a purposeful oversight, the truth is, I forgot. Stanley or Dr. Botway as I used to call him, was a chiropractor in North Merrick, NY. My mom had gone to him for years and I when I started having my own back issues in my late teens, I started going to him too. Stan is a gregarious sort of chap with a fantastic sense of humor and he resembled Benny Hill a little too, which adds to the flavor. As you know, I was exposed to motorcycles and people that rode them from a young age. What made Stan different is that he rode a BMW. Once you got to know Stan, it was understandable: He liked the very best in any hobby or interest he pursued. Stan also collected firearms and knives, which were other areas of interest we shared. His tastes in those also showed a tendency to favor what would be considered best in class.

Still, when I was young, I never understood the draw towards BMW as a motorcycle. They were stodgy, parochial and to be honest, seemed to be odd to me. They were a bike for old fuddy duddies. Stan would regale me with stories and opinions of how balanced they were in terms of performance and functionality. Stan certainly had the riding chops to back it up, with riding around half a million miles lifetime in a sport where some people wouldn't do that in five lifetimes. He would often take off for as long as six weeks in the summer and tour the country going as far as Alaska. In spite of these stories, I went a different route, starting off with a 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000 in 1987. While the KZ would run circles around any boxer of that day, in time I would find out the limitations. The KZ could go well enough, but stopping and handling were another story. From there I went to a GPz750 that was my brothers. I kind of got it back in shape, but gave it back to him when I moved to Iowa, as I already had a Vulcan 800 Classic at the time that was going with me. Since then I have owned a Vulcan Nomad 1600 and now a 2009 R1200RT, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Over the years I had kept in touch with Stan and used his services when I had to. He was the only chiropractor I had ever used prior to moving to Iowa. Since then, he retired from practice and moved to North Carolina. Some years ago I had gotten in contact with him and we converse through email. About a year ago, I felt that the Nomad wasn't the motorcycle for me. It's a lovely bike ridden within it's limitation or even mine, but it's not complete or well balanced. It doesn't have ABS, cruise control, or heated seats and grips. Speaking of seats, Kawasaki must have hired CIA interrogation operatives to design the stock seat. I couldn't ride that bike without wanting to jump off it after an hour. I tried a Mustang seat, and it was the biggest waste of money I had spent on a motorcycle. I still wanted to jump off after an hour and half. Anyway, I felt I needed something more balanced, more complete. As luck would have it, Stan had a 1998 R1100RT, complete with Russell Day Long seat and a trailer. The price was very good, but I decided against buying it. I felt bad about it, as it would have been nice to "inherit" a bike owned by Stan, but I wanted something newer, more modern, something complete and balanced.  I could afford to do it, so I did. Last October, I found a leftover 2009 R1200RT at a local dealer. I think I may had momentarily disappointed Stan, but I heard he sold it to a neighbor.

I could write a tome about Stan or at least my impressions and interactions with him, but in a nutshell, he was a great factor, an immeasurable one in my starting out and continuing to ride motorcycles. My mom was scared to death that something bad would happen to me. She had a very negative view of motorcycles and Stan understood that. One, he told her he would talk to me about riding safely, and two, he reassured her that I would be ok. Mom trusted Stan and it went a long way in keeping her peace of mind. Stan's advice to me was to always have the attitude that everyone on the road is trying to kill you, where on purpose or otherwise and have eye on all sides of your head.  His advice works as far as I am concerned. He was my chiropractor, friend, set a good example as a fellow human being and on this past Father's Day, I wish him the best and thank him for being there for me. With him, I would not be riding today and it's as simple as that. My only other wish is that we lived closer. God bless you Stan and thank you.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Final Drive: 3000

This past weekend was a weekend for barriers to be broken, records to be set, new territory to be gained. Yes, Derek Jeter hit and surpassed 3000 career hits lifetime, all as a Yankee. He's the first Yankee to hit 3000 or more hits as Yankee and only a Yankee. Ruth didn't do it, Mantle didn't do it, Gehrig didn't do it, no one else had done it. On top of that, Derek Jeter did it. The captain of baseball's most storied and prestigious team, a Mr Clean in an era of steroid abusers, womanizers, alcoholics, drug addicts, gambling addicts and all around derelicts. He deserves all the kudos he receives and more. Bravo.

Another milestone is that My RT crossed 3000 miles. Hardly notable for a BMW or any motorcycle really, but I usually like to keep track of these milestones and where they happened. In this case, I was on route 141 and 170th street at the time, going somewhere north of 75 mph. Right now I have something like 3072 miles on the bike. I'll be changing all the fluids soon in preparation for a trip I plan to take in late August to Crescent City California for the KawaNOW West Coast Rally. I used to own a Kawasaki Nomad prior to the BMW, so I still keep in touch and I am part of that group. A great bunch of people. Anyway, I plan to change the oil, transmission and final drive fluid, in the next couple weeks. All this was supposed to be done with the 600 mile service I had done at 450 miles, but in my paranoid head, I wonder if all of it was done, and so it will be. On the return, it will be past the 6000 mile service and at that time, I will do that too. This includes oil change, transmission and final drive fluid change, valve clearance check and adjustment and throttle sync adjustment. On this oil change, I plan to switch to synthetic as it will have over 8000 miles at that point, which is beyond the 6000 miles recommendation by BMW to switch to synthetic engine oil. At that point I will probably need tires too.

If the RT makes it through this without a hitch, I have no reason not to foresee a long relationship. I've only owned Kawasaki's before the RT and I never had any issues with motorcycles bought new, where I broke it in myself and maintained it thoroughly. I have to admit that I have my doubts, reading about broken final drives, fuel strips, ESA shocks and ABS units. All very expensive to fix out of warranty, and a still a pain when in warranty. So, the question remains, at least for me, will I have a Derek Jeter, a Mickey Mantle, or Bob Uecker? Some days I have my doubts, but so far they have been unfounded. Every ride confirms my previous experiences with the motorcycle and that is, it's the best bike I have owned to date. Why I have these doubts, I am not sure other than the perception of how costly it is to maintain and repair these machines. On the other hand, my Kawasakis were very easy to own. So, you may ask, why did I switch? That's a subject for another column.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Final Drive: I am an addict

This column is an inaugural column that I will do weekly, called "Final Drive". It will be an editorial piece that allows me to write at whim about motorcycles and motorcycle related content. Think of the editorial columns in the old Cycle or now Cycle World and you get the idea. Hopefully all who read will enjoy.

By Jim Lagnese

Kurt Sutter/SutterInk
I admit it. I am an addict. Not long prior to a recent vacation out west, I discovered a new addiction through Netflix. Originally, we subscribed to Netflix in an effort to keep my six year old daughter occupied on long trips, both abroad and to blanket street. In perusing their catalog, I came across a series I had always wanted to watch, but never could get control of the television when it was on or I was asleep at the time. Of course this show is Sons Of Anarchy, the FX television series by Kurt Sutter, staring Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal and a cast of rather unusual characters.

I watched season one before our trip and with internet access in the car during the trip, I was able to watch season two. The sad thing is, Netflix has only the first two seasons. Now I suffer, waiting for season three to come out on video and season four to air. My initial impression of the show was that it was Deadwood/Sopranos on Motorcycles. In fact, you will see a lot of actors from the series Deadwood on the show. I just wish they could get Ian McShane on the show. That said, after watching both seasons, I have to admit, I feel a little conflicted. It's the same conflict I felt when I watched The Sopranos. Being of Italian ancestry, I had an understanding of the show that some people might not get. It's a type of twisted pride that when I really think about it, I usually ask myself, am I nuts? On one hand I can relate to the culture on the Sopranos, but the behavior not so much, although I suspect there must be a genetic component that allows for that pride and understanding that transcends all things. So it goes with Sons of Anarchy.

Kurt Sutter/SutterInk
When I watch the show, it touches that individualistic spirit inside of me, the one that likes to give society, law and order the middle finger. I am not a troublemaker, but may be I would like to be and I think that is what the show tries to do. It tries to connect with my inner miscreant, my inner dirt bag. It's a little disconcerting, living in middle america, riding a BMW,  with a somewhat normal job, home and family. Is it that I feign my daily existence or that I want to feign a contrived one on the TV? That's where it breaks down for me. Like the tale of the turtle that helps the snake cross the stream, the reality of what a 1% Motorcycle Club really is comes back full circle, just like it does with the Sopranos, whose sociopathic tendencies are well documented. Anyone that reads Hunter S Thompson's Hells Angels or Queen's Under and Alone will quickly realize that something isn't quite right with these people. This is brought home in the episode "Hell Followed" in season one. In this episode, Marcus Alvarez, head of The Mayans, a rival MC, orders the hit of his own son Esai, for pay back on the attemped hits on Clay (reference: SAMCRO Wikia). I just can't fathom killing my own child and if you watch the episode, it doesn't seem to bother Marcus much. It's a reminder of who these people really are. It would seem to me, that in joining such a club, one would have to put the club before careers, friends, family, religion and country. Pretty much everything. And I don't get it (I do get it, I just don't subscribe to it).

From Maryland Travel Guide
1%er MC gangs are often portrayed as some 20th century version of the American cowboy, gunslinger and anti-hero rolled into one. The alleged paradigm of rugged individualist seems to fall apart when you examine some of their rules and behaviors around them. Their colors, kuttes and territory (or even the requirement to ride a Harley). Beat downs and I bet killings have happened because of some violation of a non-club member of a rule they may or may not be aware of. Living within such structured guidelines and the behavior to defend something that at best seems childish is hardly what I would call living as a rugged or any other kind of individualist. It's tribal, sometimes at its worst and in my opinion, an effort to setup a parallel structure of authority within our existing society. It's nothing new and just another mob whose methods are force and intimidation. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Honestly, if they had anything of value to bring to the table besides physical violence and selling drugs, I might sit up and listen. True freedom is about the idea that anyone can pursue their dreams according to their will, restricted only by the equal rights that everyone has. Men exchange ideas, goods, and capital freely without fear, intimidation, or political interference. When we get there, I will let you know, but the lifestyle isn't about that. They are just another tribe that wants to compete with the head tribe.

Now that I have totally gone off the tracks here, let me say that in spite of this, I still like the show a lot and I am attracted to some of the themes, particularly the idea of hero/anti-hero in the context like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Specifically in the series, the character of Wayne Unser comes to mind. Here is a man that is a dirty cop, and yet he is also a good guy too. It's multidimensional in a world if white hats and black hats, I do appreciate the effort to portray people in a more substantive and sophisticated way. That said, I am probably too much of an individualist to be part of something like a 1%er MC as I have my own moral compass that I follow which is uniquely my own and I wouldn't compromise it for Uncle Sam or the Hells Angels. I guess I'd be an outlaw amongst outlaws. Anyone that colors outside the lines or isn't like the rest tends to get hammered eventually. Believe me I know first hand.

Willam Lucking, SutterInk
 So now I am forced to wait for the 3rd season on video, so I can get the background for the forthcoming 4th season. My favorite character on the show is Piney. I am a big guy like him, but about 21 years younger than Bill Lucking. May be I could play his kid brother? That would be a gas. Anyway, in spite of my discourse here, I do think they have a well produced and acted show with writing that is more than adequate. It does follow a serial format where you need to watch the shows and seasons in sequence, hence my animated desire to get season 3 under my belt, and I will.

Thank you for reading this blog.