Sunday, December 22, 2013

Life Is Good

Life is Good is the sign off of one Greg Kinman, AKA, Hickok45 a shootist of the highest order that has a Youtube channel where he posts videos on his latest firearms test or just ramblings on a subject to do with firearms or gun rights. I like Greg or may be the perception I have of him. I think we would get along okey dokey and what impresses me most is a certain humbleness/ordinariness that comes across as genuine and I really believe he is grateful and expresses it at the end of his videos with "Life is good". Anyway, I digress greatly here.

For the last month I have been on assignment doing contract IT work in central Phoenix and not long after starting the job, I was told I couldn't use my motorcycle to come to work as I would have to go onsite to other locations of this particular business and may have to carry equipment. One, I wasn't told this before I started the job and two, it's rubbish for the most part, but I don't want to get too much into it as it would make me seem a complainer.  It is what it is and at least it's contract and I'll just find a gig where I can ride to work. That said, I'd never take a job where I couldn't ride. Anyway, the BMW has been sitting for over 3 weeks on the float charger, all alone in the garage. I've almost forgotten I had it and I went down to take a look see. I decided to wash it, which is a four times a year ritual and afterwards I sat on a 5 gallon bucket in front of the bike staring at it like a dog stares out a window focused intently on god knows what. In my case I actually thought, that really is a cool fucking bike. As much as I have bitched and moaned about the vagaries of how BMW deals with customers and common issues, BMW makes a very good and unique machine. Anyone that ventures into the Teutonic world of vehicular mechanization soon finds out there's a totally different mindset at work. One part anal, one part eccentric, one part genius and one part pazzo as we say in Italian. No motorcycle manufacturer gets the right combination of characteristics and attributes like BMW. The only other company that I think gets it is Apple Inc®.

So, I was sitting there admiring my motorbike and thinking that in spite of being underemployed, fat, middle-aged and bored out of my mind, life is indeed good. It could be a lot worse, has been and I am still here. There's a lot to be thankful for in this holiday season and there' was only one way I could make it better: Go for a ride. So I took the back way to Rio Verde and back, then rode the back side of the town in the hills and back home. I feel better already.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Get New Rubber, Lose The Juice

Well, I finally broke down and replaced my rear tire. Usually I replace in sets, but the front has a couple thousand left, back didn't as it was down to the wear bars and I am unemployed. Part of the impetus was that putting gas in the Suburban is killing me and I miss riding. So, I went to Mototire in Phoenix to have the rear replaced. The owner Danny was so fast that he had done before I paid for it. I've never seen someone change a bike tire that fast. Anyway, I thought I was home free. Fast forward to this morning. I had an appointment so I thought I would ride to it. The bike cranked a little slow, but I was off. I got about a mile and I stalled the bike. I thought, no problem, I'll just start it back up. Click. Oops...Seems I haven't ridden much in the last couple months and the battery must be weak. The first sign was the slow cranking. At this point I was frustrated, but happy I wasn't far from home. I decided to walk when someone pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. I happily said yes as it's uphill both ways going home and this would be faster too. I got the Burb and returned to the bike, jump starting it and riding it home. Once home, I rode a bicycle back to get the Suburban. Once back home, I hooked up the battery tender and hopefully I won't have to get a new battery, but it might be a good idea at some point in the near future. Now that this job is done, on to the next job, which is finding a job. All in a day's work I say...

Thank you for reading this blog.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nothing to Report

Nothing new to report as I lost my job a month ago and needed new tires for the bike to boot. I thought I'd be re-employed by now, but as they say, hope springs eternal, but reality is a bitch. Hopefully I will have something more interesting to write about soon...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Space(d), the Final Frontier

Well, not the final frontier, but it could be, but may be I should back up a bit. The other day, I was riding to work and at one point I had no idea how I got from one point in my commute to another. It was like someone else was riding the bike. I experience this from time to time in a car, but I never have experienced this on a bike. It's not like I blacked out, but that my riding must have been autonomic. In martial arts, this is known as Mushin or "no mind".  What bothers me is that while nothing bad happened, would my "no mindedness" react properly to negative circumstances, or not because I was actually spacing out. It would be nice to believe the former, which is a state attained by a highly trained body, mind and soul. Not given to fits of egotism, my first suspicion is the latter, which is I was spacing because I was tired...or may be something else? May be my commute has become so mundane and I have done it so many times or enough times that on some level the ride has become autonomic. In a car this isn't quite as critical being surround by metal and safety glass. On a bike, exposed to everything around a rider, which can be everything from concrete, steel, asphalt, cars and barrel cactus, the results of a close encounter of the sixth kind could be out of this world. Due to my size and the effects gravity has on my body, I thoroughly eschew cycle-astronautical training.

So, that leaves me with one question: What the hell happened?

Thank you for reading this blog.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Final Drive: A Dream Deferred

Have you ever had a dream deferred?

This was a question that came into my head as I was commuting down the Beeline one morning when the air was still cool enough and traffic was light enough that I could not only think such thoughts, but get into a nice rhythm at speed that wouldn't be possible on the return commute home. Humans may not be the only animals to dream, but we are probably the only ones to make them come true or not. Some dreams are simple, like a cross country trip on our motorcycles feeling the freedom of the road and living in both the moment and the naked environment, curve after curve with soaring vistas of amber waves of grain, purple mountains majesty and waves crashing on beaches that never end. Some of our dreams are more mundane, like having an empty and quiet house, getting the parking spot closest to the building at work or getting the last peanut M&M in the bowl. Others may have more serious pursuits, like finding a soul mate, the perfect job, career or to be happy. Some dreams come true, many do not. Failure becomes the sadness that nourishes regret and yet we still have dreams in our hearts that fester to the point that they can rot like stinking meat in our souls that prevent us from moving on to greater dreams and possibilities. May be the idea of taking that cross country trip doesn't mean what it did when we were 30 years younger, doesn't fit reality anymore and yet we still hang on to the notion of being a Charlie Boorman or Ewan MacGregor. Or may be we think that a S1000RR is all we need to have to feel young again. May be it will. Who am I to say and it's a small dream really.

Have you ever had a dream deferred?

Besides wanting a real motorcycle, one of my early dreams was to become a Chiropractor. My Chiropractor was also one of the major influences in getting me into motorcycling and he impressed me enough that I thought that I might like being a Chiropractor too. Stan lived a good life and he would take off 4-8 weeks a year and go hither and yonder all over North America on a motorcycle with his lovely wife Missy. Stan was a top notch Chiro I trusted and a friend.  Unfortunately the weight of the dream came sagged under the load of 5 hours of organic chemistry labs and exploded after meeting the very lovely and intelligent Miss Jean Ribarich and after which I was side tracked enough that my grades suffered and precluded me from pursuing that dream further. All of it was my fault and that dream died rather quickly on the vine.

Have you ever had a dream deferred?

My next dream was to become a journalist. I got into New York University's Arthur L Carter Graduate School of Journalism. A really top notch school for that field and just as expensive as it sounds too. Halfway through my studies my mom became terminally ill and money became tight as well. I never completed my studies there. I had dreams of becoming a moto-journalist, something that festered for a long time after leaving the school. A year later I met my future wife and a year and half after that we were married and the rest as they say is history. Festering is a good word as I always felt like I had unfinished business. The years passed and I had been working in IT for a long time when I felt I should give it a second look as what I was doing wasn't it. The digital age was upon us and blogging was and is a way to at least feel like I am writing in a public way.  The thing is, so is everyone else and realistically, what makes my voice in this crowded wilderness any better than someone else? It's a sobering thought and an honest one too. To that end I am still here, but no Pulitzer or paychecks have been forthcoming. I guess consistency has its own reward. This dream seems to drying up like a raisin in the sun.

Have you ever had a dream deferred?

 I've had other dreams too. Some die very hard under the weight of reality. A few years back I had the wonderful idea I could compete in the Iowa Games in the Strongman competition. I had seen it the year before and I thought that I could do that if I worked out hard. I am a big guy and had experience with weights (may be I should have been a trainer) and I thought it was possible. I wanted to be the next George Foreman, defying society's conventions of age and I wanted to be a champion at 48. After doing what was a combination of bodybuilding and power-lifting routines for 8  months, I hit a wall. Actually, I didn't hit a wall, but I found my limitations the hard way. After doing farmer's walks with 150lb dumbbells, I found I couldn't do incline dumbell presses with my left arm. When I say I couldn't do it, it was because it didn't work. My mind told my arm to press, but nothing happened. Long story short, it didn't get better by itself and I would have to get a 3 level cervical fusion and my strongman days were over at 48. I hit the trifecta with stenosis, bone spurs and bad disks. The doc basically said, don't do that anymore and I haven't. At 51, that dream is dead and buried.

Have you ever had a dream deferred?

So now I am looking for the next dream, hopefully unencumbered by past ones. Sometimes old dreams hold us back and we need to let go of the past to create a possible future. May be it will be simple and sweet, like the small joys we experience every day which can be as simple as getting one's face in the wind or may be it will be as grand and daring as anything I have tried before. At the very least I will be writing here. Stay tuned. Independence Day is upon us.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Final Drive: Believe

Believe. Do you believe? What do you believe? The sound of Josh Groban singing the hit single from the movie, Polar Express, comes to mind as I write this. I do not mean think or know or hope, which are different concepts in my mind. Somewhere in the bible it says "as a man believes in his heart, so he is" (For those that need to know, it's Proverbs chapter 23, verse 7). There are many contexts to this. When you are entering a right hand decreasing radius downhill turn too hot, do you believe you will make it through? Have you had moments when you are in over your head on a bike, does belief pull you through or is just luck, skill or a combination or all three? Imagine jumping out of a plane with a parachute. Do you know it will open, believe it will or just hope? Personally, I skip the skydiving altogether. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane is totally beyond belief to me.

Beliefs can be built upon knowledge and with the above examples, practice can give the foundation of believing as it were. But there are situations in our lives where believing doesn't have a foundation in knowledge and praxis per se, but the other way around. We use facts and limited experiences to justify what we believe. This is a much more common occurrence than one would believe and sometimes with dire consequences, most times just expressions of our ignorance. What's even more unbelievable to some is that marketing and sales people use this this knowledge,  some would say against us, or just to their advantage. Whatever the case, it can be amusing to watch and sometimes deflating to experience cognitive dissonance with regard to our beliefs. No, George Washington didn't chop down a cherry tree as related in Parson Weems' fable, there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny either. Our society seems bent on creating narratives that at best are untrue and at worst foment a hypocrisy that makes one wonder if anything we are told is true. At this point you are probably wondering where I am going with this. Believe me, you'll have to wait.

Speaking of marketing, sales and beliefs, an important part of all this is something called Top Of Mind Awareness or TOMA. When you think of mobile phones, what comes to mind? May be iPhone or Verizon? When someone says soft drink, what comes to mind? Coca Cola? Pepsi? When someone says motorcycle, what do you thing of first? Harley Davidson? This is TOMA. Along with these brand icons comes along a narrative that companies create, develop and promote in order to elicit emotions, usually and hopefully positive ones that either encourage you to purchase their product and if not, have it in the top of your mind when such a product class is mentioned. Sometimes groups of people that believe the narrative promoted by the manufacturer get together and form clubs. Sometimes they are called fans, true believers, Kool-Aid® drinkers, etc. Whole industries have grown around this, particularly journalism, which purports to report objectively about things, whether politics, homes or gardening and motorcycles too. In turn, advertising money is spent in these publications by said brands and the merry-go-round spins happily around. Like in the Wizard of Oz, what happens if we look behind the curtain or in Matrix talk, take the Red Pill?

I usually do not subscribe to being a fan of anything, at least not in the last 10 years or so. The closest that I came was with Apple computers. I worked with them every day and not only did I believe they were the best, but somehow they had powers beyond what the facts supported. I still like them a lot and think (or believe) that the Mac operating system is the best that is out there right now. Magical? No. I've also looked at BMW motorcycles the same way in that the brand represents quality and quality that is above what other motorcycles not only represent, but are in reality. Sometimes reality challenges that narrative and cognitive dissonance ensues. BMW's narrative is "Unstoppable". Really. I haven't had any day ending problems on mine, but since owning one, it's become apparent that BMW's are less than "Unstoppable". I would read about the common problems: Failed final drives, fuel pump controllers and fuel strips on boxer based bikes (newer machines have leaky water pumps and switchgear that breaks eventually unless it is caressed with the lightest of touches). Even I had fuel strip failure and even felt like I was part of an inner circle of those with failed fuel strips, some of whom have had as many as 7 failures. Then a series of events in the last few weeks hit home. An owner of a 8 month old K1600GT had a fuel pump failure. OK. BMWs come with a 3 year/36K mile warranty, so it should be fixed. Well, BMWNA refused to replace the fuel pump under warranty because he didn't have enough mileage on it. You read that right. Since he only had 2000 miles in 8 months, BMW deemed he didn't ride it enough and it was his fault, due to his neglect that the fuel pump failed. Around the same time, a fellow BMWMOA member was having leaking seals problems with his R1200GS, I believe it is a 2005 model. It's been repaired under warranty and on his dime several times. BMWNA said that the problem was a defective engine block and it wasn't worth fixing because an engine costs $9000 and the bike is worth may be $8-9000. OK. So they offered him $2500 off a new one. The owner felt it was low and decided to go on a email campaign with the help of friends from the BMWMOA to persuade them to chip in a little more because the cost to him in dollars and inconvenience. They came back with a offer of $1200+ to buy it back and stern warning to those that participated in the email campaign:

BMW Motorrad: Hi Rxxxx, thanks for your opinion on the situation. We have provided what we feel is a reasonable solution and you have declined to accept it. We ask you to refrain from encouraging other fans to email members of the BMW staff because it may limit the response time for your fellow Motorrad community members who may have a problem or concern that needs solving. You are free to post on the main BMW Motorrad page however in future, if you continue to promote your situation on other BMW Motorrad users posts, we will have to delete them.

The arrogance of the BMW staff. What was more surprising is that a lot of beemer riders sided with BMWNA. Some called my acquaintance names because they believed he was looking for a freebee. Understand that BMW admitted the engine was defective and the owner had a lot of documentation of dealer repairs. Normally I thought most beemer riders were more logical than other motorcycle riders and didn't fall prey to narratives, Kool-Aid® drinking or other fanatical behavior. I was wrong. In fact they will put up with poor customer service and problems with their bikes that I don't even see with Harley Davidson riders or Harley Davidson bikes,  but in Harley Davidson's defense, I've heard from owners that say they get treated very well by dealers and the MoCo. My Kawasaki's and friends that own them (I am a member of the Vulcan Bagger Association) have had much fewer problems while outlaying much less cash.

So, the bloom is off the rose, there is no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny and BMW Motorcycles aren't Unstoppable. Rather than wallow in cognitive dissonance, I would rather face reality for what it is: BMWNA is a faceless corporation that cares more about it's pennies than doing what is right. Got it. Check that one off. So, at this point, what I believe is based on experience as opposed to believing a narrative that isn't based on experience or any other facts. I guess they could say that their narrative isn't that they give the best customer service in the world. Fair enough, but I've never seen a company dig in its heels like this one. It's like doubling down on wrong.

So, what do you believe?

Thank you for reading this blog.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Final Drive: I Am Not a Professional: But I play one on TV

There are days I wonder to myself, what the hell am I doing? Have you had these days? Sometimes it's like everything I touch turns to crap. This doesn't happen often, may be every few or a little more years, but it is disconcerting none the less. I recently found myself asking myself that very same question after doing the 18K mile service on my R1200RT.

I had planned for the 18K mile service well in advance. I bought 4 quarts of Mobil 1 V-Twin the month before, which was $2 off a quart on sale at O'Reilly's, a quart of Valvoline Synthetic 75w-140 for the transmission, a quart of Mobil 1 75w-90 for the final drive, 4 NGK DCPR8EIX spark plugs (which were harder to find than a set of points for a 1923 Excelsior), a Mann MW75 oil filter and I already had the crush washers for the transmission and oil drain. I started at 9am on a Saturday morning, which is actually late for me. First, off with all the Tupperware, which takes 15-20 minutes to remove 90% of it. I started from the front, with the valve adjustment and spark plugs. Oops, the lower spark plugs have a retainer that requires a T-30, which I don't have. Off to O'Reilly's to pick it up. Just a comment here: Why does BMW, in their wisdom, make the bosses that the spark plugs are ensconced so small that anyone that changes plugs needs a socket that is as thin as a crepe? Can you say wafer thin? Valves were marginal in needing adjustment, which is a good thing. They've needed adjustment each time I adjusted them at 6K and 12K miles. Hopefully it is a sign that things are settling in. I then cleaned up the gaskets and mounting surfaces for the valve covers, mounted them and torqued to spec. My iPhone came in handy as I put in all the torque specs for the bike before I started work. Next, time to install plugs. Another lesson learned here on the lower spark plugs: Do not try to be GI Joe with Kung Fu grip when removing coils. Carefully wiggle the boot on the insulator to get the coil off the plug or it might be possible to break the plastic boss for the voltage lead plug for the coil. Talk about wafer thin, the plastic on that coil plug boss is thinner than this, but not nearly as enticing, but almost as expensive.

Next I moved on to the oil change, changing out the oil filter and replacing the crush washer on the drain plug. Torque to spec, or so I thought (later on that), I added 4 quarts of Mobil's best to the engine and on then next, on to the transmission. I drained the transmission, new crush washers on the fill and drain plugs, torque the drain plug to spec, fill with 75w-140, torque the fill plug to spec and move on. What is truly lovely about draining transmission fluid from a RT is that not only do you have to take off the right side body work to drain and refill, you need a small funnel or an ad hoc representative (I used a 1 liter water bottle. Aqua Fina seems to work fine) to route the fluid into a drain pan or the catalytic converter and god knows what else will get bathed in the stuff. For those that don't know what gear lube smells like, you are in for a treat. It's smells like a cross between turmeric and cat piss. It might appeal to someone that lives for Indian food, but it does nothing for me. Get it on your clothes and you'll hear from whomever does your laundry, I guarantee it. Next up: The final drive and I don't mean another column here, but the gear lube change for the final drive on my RT.

Changing the final drive fluid isn't bad. Remove the left pannier, muffler hanger bolt, loosen the muffler clamp, rotate the muffler clockwise (another idiom that has fallen out of favor in the digital age. If I have to explain it, you probably shouldn't be doing this.) which turns it down. When the muffler is at the floor, then we can remove the 5 bolts for the wheel, remove wheel and set it aside. At this point, I can open the fill plug, which is on the upper left side of the drive on the back and then remove the drain plug at 6 O'Clock (Here I go with the anachronistic idioms again), draining the drive, or remove the ABS/Speedometer sensor on the upper right on the back of the drive. I chose the latter (on model years prior to 2009 I believe, there is no fill plug. You have to go through the sensor hole.). It's a good idea to see if there is any metallic particles on the sensor and if so, clean it. The drive requires 180ml or cc of gear lube. It used to be something like 230cc's, but BMW revised this figure downward when there was a spate of final drive failures, which is a subject that lives on it's own. At this point, it's just wait for the drive to drain, reinstall the drain plug, torque to spec, fill the drive, and reinstall the sensor. All is well, right?

Well, as they say, all that glitters is not gold and Murphy was indeed an optimist. I've also come to some conclusions when working on BMW's. The week following the service, I smelled that lovely and familiar turmeric/cat piss smell after riding. Upon inspection, I saw the transmission drain plug was leaking. I also noticed some weeping of he engine oil drain plug. I checked the plugs with a torque wrench. The transmission was in spec, the oil drain wasn't (and stopped weeping after this.). Since I didn't have spares for the transmission and I didn't trust the third party I bought them from, I decided to go to the dealer and get some replacements, which I did. I again did the Tupperware dance, drained the transmission and installed the new, BMW crush washers. They seemed tight after this but...I smelled that familiar smell in ensuing days. In keeping with the Shakespeare theme here, O what smell through yon drain plug stinks of cat piss and turmeric? This time it was the drain on the final drive, which used an O-Ring. I had replaced the O-ring at 3500 miles when I changed the final drive fluid last, so I figured it was still good. I was wrong. What is interesting is that in between the transmission and final drive seepage/weepage was a fuel strip failure. When I had the bike in for that warranty repair, I asked the service writer to look at the final drive to see how it is, in terms of tightness (a sign of impending failure is too much movement while rocking the wheel while holding it at 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock and it's not much movement either.) and the service writer said everything was fine. I wonder what the techs thought of the weepage on the final drive drain plug and the spotting on the wheel? I won't mention names here as I have already laid a stinker in the room in regards to GOAZ, but there was some evidence on the wheel of seepage/weepage on the wheel as well as the drain plug. This weekend I drained the final drive and replaced the o-rings for the sensor and the drain plug. We'll see, but I am hopeful.

So, Jim's Law of working on BMW Motorcycles:
  1. Always clean gasket/sealing surfaces scrupulously and use a solvent like acetone. 
  2. Always replace  o-rings and crush washers with each service where the drain/fill plugs are removed and use BMW parts. No exceptions.
  3. When unplugging connectors or removing an item that is plugged in, use extra-special care. BMW does not engineer these parts to withstand the power of Thor and you'll find that flimsy plastic piece will cost you a small fortune to replace, because you'll have to replace the whole unit of whatever it is.
  4. When their are requirements in the owners or shop manual, follow them to the letter. BMW is made by Germans. They are an exacting people, unlike Americans or the Japanese, who give a little more leeway at times. I have no idea about Italian bikes, other than being half Italian would lead me to believe that with a Ducati or Motoguzzi or other Italian bikes, it all depends...
So there you have it. An 18K mile service that seemed to span a few weeks. Normally I am very good about these things, but this time it was a real Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment or moments. The good thing is we live and learn, at least some of us do. We also have "those days" where we wish we could get a do over. In the end it's all good. I think...

Thank you for reading this blog. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Final Drive: Heat

No, I am not talking about the coming of summer in Arizona and the heat that comes along with it. I am talking about taking heat for my post, Make it Progresso, or Make it Yourself. Seems that some in the bike repair industry took umbrage. Billy Walker (you'll have to be a member to see this) doesn't think dealers ever do things wrong. OK, I overstate it, but he's definitely a cheerleader for motorcycle dealers and he didn't think my blog post was the best way to deal with my issue, which was small. One of my points is that if you can fix and maintain your own motorcycle, do so. You'll save a bundle and even Billy will agree that no one likes (loves) your motorcycle as much as you do and if you are competent in maintaining and repairing your bike, you'll have the pride of knowing it was done right. That said, to Billy's point, BMW mechanics spend time and money keeping their skills up to date, work hard and after thinking about it, may be I should have gone back and had them take care of it and publishing the article was the equivalent of pissing in the hot tub. Well, may be not quite that bad, but I have to admit I couldn't help myself when I got the idea for the article. I still think the general of the idea of the article is a good one. So, If I've stepped on any toes, I apologize, especially since Josiah from Dirtball Customs referred me to GOAZ. Josiah is a real nice guy and I would recommend his services to anyone that needs their bike looked after and I would recommend GOAZ as well.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Final Drive: Commuting and the March of the Ants

Most of my riding is commuting, although at times it reminds me more of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain than actually getting somewhat and at other times, most of the time it reminds me of Ants Marching like a herd of biters on The Walking Dead. I would also say it's worse on the way home as opposed to on the way to work, although all sorts of reprobation, mass destruction and mayhem from johnny playing the hand flute to Carol high on a veritable Brompton's Cocktail , who goes the wrong way on the freeway, probably because she didn't want to miss Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. Some of my personal favorites are: Reading the paper, putting on make-up, the driver getting a blow job, talking on the cell phone and texting. What's even more amazing about talking on the cell phone is that a lot of these idiots have cars or trucks with bluetooth/hands free capability and yet they have the phone glued to their ear with their head against the side window or they are talking to the phone like a communicator from Star Trek. Either way, they aren't paying enough attention to the most important task at hand.

One of the biggest dangers I face going to work (as well as coming home from work) is that I use the HOV lane and there is always some idiot that is late for work, wants to get home so they don't miss Dr Phil or their kids baseball game and they cut into the HOV lane without looking to see who already occupies that lane. The other day some steampunk dread looking asshole cut into my lane and when I honked while hitting the brakes and moving over the shoulder, he gave me the finger and was yelling at me. I scooted away and made as much distance between us as I could. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. What is even more incredulous is that more often than not, there is only one person in the car and they are trying and often do use the HOV lane illegally. Sometimes I wish I was a cop, as I could make a pretty good living at it based on the jackassery I see everyday. It wouldn't be difficult to find work to do. Like the other day...

The other day I was riding up 87 on the way home, which is my favorite part of the ride. Some guy in a 2000ish Impala is wandering in his lane. As I pass by the ersatz Tommy Chong has a blunt the size of my middle finger, sharing it with his friends. Again, I made way to get as much distance between he and I as possible. The week before, I encountered the second coming of Bob Marley in an old Chevy van on University, near 40th Street. This guy was all over the freaking place. I would have thought Stevie Wonder was driving the van. Once past Mr Doobie, I made sure the distance between us grew. It isn't always like this. Most of the time it's just bumper to bumper traffic on the 202 and it's a de rigueur chore to wade through the marching ants to get to the HOV lane, which while adventurous in some ways, it's a lot easier on the clutch than having to ride in traffic and when it get hot out here, it's a blessing. You haven't lived until you've ridden in bumper to bumper traffic when it's 110˚F outside.

And so it goes, day after day, navigating my way through the morass of cagers, just trying to get to my destination safely. Like Rick Grimes stuck in Atlanta in Days Gone By, riding to work  can be a challenge sometimes, if not entertaining at other times. The thing for me to remember is that job # 1 is to make it to my destination safely. Not too long ago I would have ripped someone's arms out and beat them to death from some of the cager antics i still experience, but with age comes clarity. It isn't worth it. At some point I realized that it was no harm, no foul, let it go and keep going. I'm supposed to enjoy the ride...How about you?

Thank you for reading this blog.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Final Drive: Commuting and the Parade of Elephants

I was going to write an article about commuting to work as I do just that, every day on my RT, because I don't have a car and because I can. There's a lot more traffic here in the Phoenix area than Des Moines, although not nearly as much as New York. Anyway, it's a challenge at times and I thought I'd write about it, you know, the agony and ecstasy of getting from point A to point B, but then we had Bike Week in Arizona.

Arizona Bike Week is something new to me. I moved to Arizona last June and by that time, Bike Week had already passed. This year marks the 17th year that Bike Week has been in Arizona. They expect to draw 60,000 "bikers" this year, so while it's not Daytona or Sturgis, it is a fairly big event and one that draws decent musical acts and lots of tradition biker events. This year, on the final day, "Opie" and "Bobbie" from the television show Sons of Anarchy were leading a ride from Arrowhead Harley Davidson to the Cyclefest event center in Scottsdale to raise money for Crusaders for the Children. Not being a "biker" and not particularly interested in Arizona Bike Week, I didn't know this...Until today.

Twin Wheels Cafe
This morning, I went on a breakfast ride to Wickenburg, where we at at the Twin Wheels Cafe. I had Been there before with the Phoenix Motorcycle Riders Group and it's a favorite with the motorcycle bunch.
I like the place, but for some reason, whatever I have ordered in the past, it seems to be less attractive than what my table mates get. I hate when that happens, but the real eye opener happened on the way home.

On the way back from Twin Wheels, I got on the 101 North, figuring a nice quick trip home across the valley when I hit traffic, and I am not talking heavy traffic, but stopped dead in your tracks traffic. Fearing the worst, I got off at Thunderbird and proceeded to get on again as the traffic looked minimal. The first clue should have been the traffic cop that was leaving the intersection of the off/on ramp. Actually the first clue was Tony or Troy at breakfast saying there was a ride at Arrowhead Harley Davidson, with some cast members from Sons Of Anarchy leading the pack. The third clue was running into the tail end of the ride in the HOV lane. I quickly hit the left lane and started to make time on the ride, heading towards the front. It took me from W. Bell Rd on the 101 to Hayden Rd in Scottsdale to come within a half a mile of the lead. I got off on Hayden as traffic was being blocked for the Parade of Elephants.

Mark Boone Jr, AKA Bobby
The phrase "Parade of Elephants" doesn't do justice to the caravan I witnessed as I rode by. It was like a combination of a 10 mile procession of elephants led by Hannibal over the Alps and unseen footage from Road Warrior, but with better looking bikes. As I rode up on the formation and by it,  I was almost nauseated if not asphyxiated by the maladjusted fuel mixtures on some of the bikes. I have to wonder if the first requirement for owning a Harley Davidson is to reprogram the computer to achieve the exhaust emissions of a Union Pacific 4-8-8-4. I had visions of Michael Bloomberg in apoplexy and respiratory distress if he had to drive behind this extended SOA entourage. No 64 ounce cup of Pepsi Max would be able to break him out of it. Thank god he doesn't live here in Arizona. He'd have these chaps rounded up and shipped out in no time. Then again, may be if he did live in Arizona or was visiting here and had a fit,  he'd be tarred, feathered and rode out on a rail. I favor the latter.

I decided it was best to jump off at Hayden as there was no way I was going to get to the head of the pack to see the dilettantes of motorcycle stardom as I wanted to stop by GOAZ BMW and take a gander at the new R1200GS, which is a whole new design. Before I get ahead of myself, I want to say that I am in no way "looking down" on anyone. We all have our perceptions and opinions. I am sure some look at BMW riders and wonder if they keep Grey Poupon in the glove box and if the bike comes with a portable espresso maker. I don't know about the Grey Poupon, but I do know of a BMW rider that carries an espresso maker. It really is all in fun and I'd own a Harley in a minute if I could afford a second bike. Believe me, no one escapes my deprecating eye, including myself. That said, I have mixed feelings from just looking and sitting on the new GS. It really looks like and feels like it would be very nimble. I just didn't get the feeling of quality about it though. The switchgear seemed cheesy and cheap and overall I it seemed to have the look and feel of a plastic toy. Time will tell how it will hold up, but on paper, it hits all the right notes. I just don't know if I'd spend 19K+ on one. I looked at the GT and GTL too. I've seen them before and I have to say the GTL is not a direct competitor of the Goldwing. It's a different kind of bike. Looking at the pillion position and amenities or lack of them, the GTL is a GT that wants to make believe it's a full boat touring machine. It isn't. The GT on the other hand is to the RT what the Incredible Hulk is to Dr Bruce Banner. I just love the bike, but the price tag is heart stopping for a sport tourer, but it's an awesome bike.

Now that I am home and Bike Week is over, I contemplate going back to work tomorrow. The commute awaits and so does my article on commuting. Stay tuned, I'll get to the commute next time.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Final Drive: Geronimo, Tom Horn and the Apache Trail

Arizona was one of the last territories to gain statehood, which it did on Valentine's Day, 1912 and celebrated the centennial last year. Alaska and then Hawaii followed next  in 1959. While Arizona is a latecomer to the game, it has a storied past that involves native americans, miners, ranchers and a host of bad guys all trying to make a living or just survive in this unforgiving land. While unforgiving might seem harsh in judgement to people that have never been here, I can tell you that Arizona is as rugged as anyplace on earth and in some ways resembles Mars, except temperatures here often exceed 100 degrees 5 months out of the year. It really is a testament to the native peoples and early settlers that survived if not flourished here. In some ways, I wish I could say the same about myself.

Since moving Arizona, I have been pretty much on my own as far as riding and even socializing. I have a handful of online friends that live in the Phoenix area, but we pretty much keep to ourselves. Last week I emailed a friend, who I'll call "Irish" (I changed the names to protect the innocent), to find out if he would like to take a ride out to Globe for lunch. Another friend of ours, known as "Cactus Jack" has been bragging up a  Mexican place called Irene's for quite some time and with the improving weather, I thought that last Thursday would be a good day to check it out. Irish arrived at my house at 9 AM, riding his black 2006 Kawasaki Nomad. Good thing it was 9 AM as the pipes were loud and although not wake up the dead loud, they definitely get one's attention. So off we went, Frick and Frack, on our trip to Globe, aided by Irish's GPS, a Tom Tom, which was used on the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Discovery. While advanced for its day, it had issues with roads built after the state's founding. This is ok for the most part as most roads here are just paved horse trails anyway. After making a few corrections, we found our selves out by AZ 88, also known as the Apache Trail. Irish had to stop for gas as the Nomad's range is slightly farther than a Chevy Volt on electricity only, which is to say not very far. During this stop, he said lets go by the Apache Trail to 188, which will bring us into Globe. Being of the adventurous kind, I said sure...

Map of the Apache Trail
AZ 88 is a picturesque road for sure, with gold mining camps and a ghost town along the way. It reminded me of Calico Ghost town out on I 15 going to Las Vegas. Soon afterward, the road got windy, narrow and poorer in quality. Some of the blacktop looked like it hadn't been repaved since Checkers bailed out tricky dick. With expansion crack heaves every 10 feet or so, I just couldn't get the right rhythm. Part of it is that I run higher than average pressure in my tires as I am larger than average. The side affect is a bumpy ride on not so nice roads, but the roads were twisty and not for the faint of heart. The scenery was top notch, just keep clear of the post life facilitating drop offs as there are very few guard rails here. Anyway, we made it to Tortilla Flats, which is sort of a rest stop sized town with a saloon and curio store. Irish had to go inside to walk the dog while I made acquaintances with the Lost Dutchman.

The Lost Dutchman of Tortilla Flats
After Irish's pit stop, we conversed with some canucks who has stopped at the shop and were headed back out. That should have been my warning. The Canadians were looking over my BMW, commenting how they'd love to have the new K1600. Sure, for another $8K in the US, who knows how much in Albertastan. Anyway, Irish asks me if I mind riding on dirt roads. I told him I do it occasionally. He then asks if we should continue on 88 as he thinks some of it is dirt. Since the gauntlet was thrown down and from a cruiser rider, I couldn't say no, so we proceeded onward.

Around the Bend On the Apache Trail

Not long after Tortilla Flats the road did indeed turn to dirt, with plenty of washboard surface with what I would describe as talcum powder on top of it. The road looked like it hadn't been maintained in awhile and there were alluvial ruts that I didn't want to track in as it usually leads to a bad end. The real shocker was to find out that I had 22 miles of this and more before I got back on pavement. At that point, I was in all the way. The road continued on with a combination of relatively short straights, uphill and downhill switch backs with some downhill grades that were interesting with vistas of scrub brush, saguaro cactus and rugged rocky mountains that make Mt Rushmore seem like a cornfield in Iowa. It was the longest 22 miles I've ridden in my life and while it did take an hour and a little more, during the ride, I ruminated over the name, Apache Trail and wondered if Geronimo had taken his people over this trail to get to better weather than the summer heat in the valley or to escape the wrath of the Mexican or US Armies. In surveying the scenery I also wondered if the land here certainly bears a resemblance to the ruggedness seen in Geronimo's face, I think it does. At the same time I don't think Irish and I would fair well in those times. We resemble Tom and George Custer more than I'd like, Irish especially. Speaking of Tom, George and Geronimo, I also couldn't help thinking if Tom Horn, the indian scout, deputy sheriff, Pinkerton Detective, Rough Rider and stock detective cum convicted murderer had graced these same trails as well. I am pretty certain both did, I just hoped my fate would be better than theirs.

More of the Apache Trail
The plain truth is, the ride wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, just slow and with a bike not meant to ride on that kind of terrain. I did learn a couple lessons though. One, going too slow makes the ride rougher. So rough at times I thought the bike would shake apart and anecdotally, it seems my 49L topcase might be a little looser. Two, don't hold the grips tight or too tight. This wore out my forearms and made the trip back home a pain because my hands were cramping, which has happened before, on a trip to the west coast. It's not a good feeling. Three, getting off the seat at times made the ride better. Thing is, I haven't ridden much dirt, except on a friends YZ250 and a KLR 25 years ago, but taking that short cut as it were has given me some ideas for the future, which would be getting a dirt ready street bike as a second bike or to replace the RT and I've always loved the R1200GSA. Adding insult to stupidity was when two people whizzed by Irish and me like were standing still. It looked like they were riding Honda CRF250L's. Later on we caught up with them at Roosevelt Dam and they looked to be a couple closer to 60 than I was. Ouch.

The Apache Trail next to Apache Lake
In the end it was a successful trip and we had lunch at Irene's in Globe before heading back to the valley. Next time, I will take the paved way to Globe, unless I have a dirt ready bike, which I doubt. Not unless I win the lottery. :)

Thank you for reading this blog.

The Bikes, Rear View

The Bikes, Front View

Tom Horn

Heading out of Tortilla Flats

My Friend, Irish


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Final Drive: Make It Progresso or Make It Yourself

There was a TV commercial from the 70's for Progresso soups that had the tag line, "Make it Progresso or make it yourself". This means that Progresso had such high standards that to make anything better, you had to make it yourself. Considering that Progresso was a purveyor of Italian foods for that market, it was a pretty tall claim. I found out recently, this extends to more than just soup.

Recently, I had brought my motorcycle in for a warranty repair of the front ABS cable. If you recall, this problem surfaced on my trip to Crescent City. Normally I do all the maintenance and repairs on my vehicles, but I finally had time to take the bike into the shop to get it fixed and since it was a warranty repair, why not? Josiah of Dirtball Customs in Scottsdale suggested I take it to GOAZ in North Scottsdale for the warranty repair. GOAZ is a multiline dealership that sells and services not only BMWs, but KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Triumph, Ducati and Kawasaki. The owner of GOAZ also owns the Harley Davidson dealer next door.  This said owner is none other than Bob Parsons, owner and founder of GO Daddy. To that end, the dealership is new, modern, clean and seems to be very customer service oriented. I was impressed with them, particularly compared to Victory BMW, which seemed more mom and pop and a little looser, if you know what I mean. If I have anymore warranty issues, I'll give them a shot.

Anyway, in order to replace the ABS cable, a lot of the Tupperware has to come off the bike as does the gas tank. The job took two hours and upon return of my bike, I saw that they washed it as well. Happy as a clam I rode off to go home. When I got home, I noticed some plumbing showing between the gas tank and steering neck I don't normally see. Upon further inspection, it looks like the fuel lines from the gas tank. They should not be visible, but routed along the tank.

I disassembled the Tupperware from the left side of the bike to get a better look at the problem. from what I could tell, the fuel lines were routed in front of the power cable to the Powerlet outlet in the left fairing and the clip securing the power cable was not fastened closed. I disconnected the fuel lines and rerouted them behind the power cable and fastened the power cable to the clip as below:

So now with the Tupperware assembled back in its proper place, we no longer see the jumble of hoses and everything is in its proper place:

 So, to use the terms of the Progresso commercial, I tried Progresso, but I ended up making it myself...or at least finishing it correctly myself. If I had paid for this, I would have taken it back, but had I had to pay for it, I would have done it myself to begin with. Obviously, this is a minor oversight, but one, in my opinion, is more to do with the business model of many dealerships and not with the expertise of the technician. Most car and motorcycle dealerships operate on the incentive plan. This means that if a job has a book time of 5 hours and the technician does it in less time, he or she is making time, which leads to higher pay through commissions or more paid hours. It's not uncommon for technicians to make up to two times their hours, meaning they can do 80 hours of work in a forty hour work week. The basics are, if the dealer charges 12 hours for a clutch job on a K1200LT and the technician does it in 6 hours, the dealer kicks some money to the technician because the technician is onto to another billable job while his time is still being billed on the original job. The downside of this is that in the rush to make time, mistakes get made. Personally, I'd rather get it done right every time than do it too fast to make a little more money, but hey, that's me. 

So, will you make it Progresso, or will you make it yourself?

Thank you for reading this blog. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Final Drive: Neil Peart, The Holidays and Shunpiking

I grew up on suburban Long Island in the 60's and 70's and like many kids of that era and location, I found myself in the pastimes of playing in a band and riding mini-bikes and motorcycles. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I thought I wanted to play guitar and my dad got me one, but I couldn't pick up playing it at all. My brother did, as he seemed more musical than me, playing the trumpet since he was seven. For some reason musical ability eluded me. I tried the bass after that and with even quicker negative results, I was again instrumentless. Then something magical happened. I went over my cousin Kenny's house one day and his parents had bought him a Leeds drumset, a four piece kit style that was popular in the 60's and before. When I sat down, picked up the sticks and proceeded to use them, it made sense. Before long my mom got me a used 5 piece set, blue sparkle if I recall and I started taking lessons at the Long Island Drum Center. My first teacher was Bill Cramer. Bill was a striking figure with long red hair and a full beard, not unlike Ginger Baker. Bill also rode a candy apple red 1976 Honda CB750F. It was quite the bike at the time and once or twice he gave me a ride home on it. Bill got married later on that year and moved to California where he still lives. Don Mulvaney took over after that with the occasional Dom Famularo when Don was unavailable.

While Playing the drums came natural, I also picked up some bad habits that Don tried to cure me and I am not sure he did cure me to this day. Having played on my own for almost a year before taking lessons allowed me to learn in ways that weren't necessarily according to Hoyle. I won't get into them here, but I think this extends to a lot of things in life. Around this time, my brother and I got our first bike, a Rupp mini-bike, on which were learned the fine art of riding. I am sure I learned some bad habits there too, but I never had lessons to straighten me out, not in 25+ years of riding full-size motorcycles on my own. It's not a matter of pride I say this at all. If anything, I am frugal and I just never spent the money to get further training on the motorcycle, which I think has hindered me in some ways, like taking full advantage of the capabilities of my motorcycles, at least in anything other than a straight line.

Photo by Rob Wallis

With the year coming to a close, I reflect on this theme, of not only bad habits, but of taking the short way around the barn too. Back when I started to play drums, I had my favorites: Sib Hashian, Gary Mallaber, John Bonham and Keith Moon, to name a few. Then I discovered Neil Peart. I remember being blown away by La Villa Strangiato. Neil and Rush opened my mind to not only better music, but lyrics whose philosophy meant something and still do. It was like I had found music that had made sense to me, just like when I picked up those drum sticks the first time at my cousin Kenny's house. In the intervening years, I have been to at least 5 Rush concerts and I have followed Neil's career if not life and I have been amazed, not only by his continual improvement, but his ability to overcome adversity. He really is an amazing human being that humbles me not only behind the kit, but in most things. One of his terms is shunpiking, which to paraphrase Neil, is taking the road no one would take unless they lived on it. Neil applies this to riding. Being mostly a commuting rider, I don't find myself shunpiking on the bike too much. The reasons are one, time, I never seem to have enough time to explore and riding a R1200RT doesn't lend itself to dirt and off road excursions. I have however done this a little bit with life. In the past 34 years, I have explored many different types of jobs, whether part time jobs when going to school or full time jobs just to make a living. I've worked as a groundskeeper, glazier, auto mechanic, bail enforcement agent, child abuse investigator, and IT worker, just to name a few. I've met people from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds in many different roles. I often wonder, what would it be like to stay focused on one thing, improving and perfecting skills, becoming a true master. In fact I envy those that either put in the time with single mindedness or seem to be born with the single passion in life and pursue it with vigor. 

So, during this holiday season, I find myself reflecting on my shunpiking and wonder if I have at times, if not always, tried to take the short way around the barn. The truth is, there is no shortcut to competency or mastering something. It's a process that takes time and that amount of time can vary for individuals as well as the object we are discussing, however, once we make that breakthrough, it is self-evident. The key to this is that mastering or competency is not a destination, but a milestone along the way and the path is continual improvement or evolution. In my own case, I do not understand my own path anymore. At 50 I find myself looking back and wondering what and why. May be I should be looking forward, but as a contextual person, I need to understand the past to proceed forward. I am still trying to figure this out. As far as Neil goes, I think he doing fabulous. I would have one piece of advice for him and this is coming from a fellow introvert (ISTP if you must know): Relax around people and don't be afraid to mix a bit. I think he is a little neurotic about privacy, but then I am an anonymous fool. I wonder what advice he'd have for me? Happy New Year Neil and to all.

Thank you for reading this blog.