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Bringing It Home

Biker Billy begins the show at the Crossroads Rally

Biker Billy begins the show at the Crossroads Rally

I started the “Biker Billy’s Irons in the Fire” Blog as a way to keep folks up to date on the many things I am involved in. It has resided here on WordPress.com so it could be easily discovered. As the years have flown by I have realized having this content outside of my main channels is less effective than I hoped. To improve the blogging experience and grow the communities we share around motorcycles, fiery foods and other topics of mutual interest I have added the blog to my website at http://www.bikerbilly.com/blog. I hope you will follow my adventures and musings at the new blog.

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Toy Runs

IMG_0261The December riding calendar is fairly well dominated by Toy Runs, at least in my neck of the woods, and it probably is in your area, too. Actually, they started here around mid-October and are scheduled through the fall. Except for one grand niece and two grand nephews, all of the kids in this extended family are grown into young adulthood. That being the case, we would rarely see the inside of a toy store if not for the annual rite of Toy Runs.

A toy store can keep you young at heart—if you can find a real one these days instead of a big-box retailer—by reconnecting you with your inner child and rekindling memories of your youth. Do you remember the excitement of childhood Christmas morning? Remember the thrill and accomplishment of saving your allowance to buy a prized toy? I sure hope you do. Every so often I get a memory rush like that when I go in to my contemporary toy box, my garage. Funny how I still keep stashed the wooden toy chest my dad made. Recently the sight of the motorcycles and antique cars in the garage brought me back to the memory of saving up my allowance to buy a matchbox car many long years ago. They were all of fifty cents then and made of die-cast metal in England—try finding a toy bike or car made anywhere but China today. Yet even though today’s toys are imported plastic, they still have the same powerful effect of instilling joy into the hearts of children.

Isn’t that what Toy Runs are all about? Instilling joy in the hearts of less-fortunate children during this the season of lights and joy? That is perhaps the purest of motivations, simply for love and compassion. Not being naïve, I am fully aware that some folks do the Toy Run thing for the politics of good public relations for our lifestyle, and that’s not a bad thing; it is a savvy response to the often-unwarranted bad PR that we get just for being different. Then, of course, there are folks who are just out for the riding opportunity and don’t “get it.” You can’t blame them, but I recently had an encounter that reminded me of what it means to “get it.”

Yesterday I saw an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while; she had returned to her job after a long leave of absence. She filled me in on recent events in her life, which among other things included marriage, the new bike her new husband bought, a fall, and the sale of her bike while she recovers from a broken pelvis. In short order our chat naturally turned to riding, as it often does, and to Toy Runs. It was in the discussion of the packed schedule of Toy Runs in the Western North Carolina (WNC) region that she shared some sad news. Part of her absence was due to an illness that resulted in a hysterectomy: in her late twenties, recently married, and not able to have children. It broke my heart, but not hers. While some would be embittered or awash in self-pity, this lady was filled with love and joy. Even being unable to bring her own into the world has done nothing to dampen her love of children. In fact, I believe it has just refocused and amplified it. She and her husband will be taking part in every Toy Run in the seven-county WNC region, and they will not be bringing the minimum, ten-dollar donation or equivalent-value toy, either. She and her husband will be instilling a lot of joy in some little hearts this year. Perhaps a child who has lost its mother will receive the gift of love from a mother without a child. Yes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

While some might look at Toy Runs as just another biker-PR effort, they are missing the hidden reality, the true point. It is not about the bikes or the toys or the ride. It is rather about the gathering of people together to help improve the lives of others. Best said by that old cliché: It is better to give than receive.

‘Tis the Season—All Year Long

merrychristmas

On a cold and frosty morning several years ago, Mary and I attended our first Toy Run of that season. It was a small, first-year event hosted by the Weaverville, NC, PD and some local businesses. Although it was new, they were very successful, having more than double the number of riders expected. By all estimations, this event looked like it would become a regular addition to our local riding calendar, which it has. Afterwards we headed over to Mary’s folks house to do some fall cleanup work. Since Memaw and Pop were in their late ’70s, we tried to help with the chores that are too labor intensive for folks their age. By evening time we had spent an entire fall day outdoors, from riding in nippy temperatures in the a.m. to power washing in the warm afternoon, and when talk rolled around of dinner, I knew that a warm meal would have me dozing in no time flat. We opted to pick something up on the way home—that way we could eat and crash on the sofa in front of the fireplace instead of crash and burn on the road while riding home.

When I am feeling cold and tired after a fall or winter day outdoors, hot soup always removes the chill from my bones, and that was definitely a soup day! On that particular day I had a yen for Chinese food, vegetarian hot-and-sour soup with my special habanero sauce added at home. Our favorite Chinese place was on the way, so we called in an order for pickup. When we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered that the whole town had a similar idea—while most tables were empty, the place was hopping with take-out and delivery business. While I waited for our order, I noticed that one of the delivery guys was wearing a bright red Ride for Kids jacket.

Since he was waiting on the kitchen, too, he offered to run my ticket so I could get out quicker. I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation by asking if he rode in the local Ride for Kids. His response was no, but he sure wished he could. He went on to tell me that his daughter had been one of the recipients of the Ride for Kids. We spoke for a good while, or I should say he spoke and I listened. He told me of his daughter, who had succumbed to her cancer. He spoke of her infectious bravery and positive spirit in the face of such a grave illness, and how she always knew when he needed words of encouragement. His little angel knew she was going to die, but was not afraid; she had a faith in God that was strong. He told me how the work done by motorcycle riders through the Ride for Kids had been an incredible gift to their family during this difficult journey. He told me how she loved the bikers and was so enthusiastic about riding in the event and spending time with them. He told me how in her last months he was able to spend most of his time with her—his boss let him work one day a week to keep insurance coverage and the Ride for Kids helped support the family. He was so thankful for the blessing that his family had received from the efforts of that motorcyclist-driven charity. I had a hard time not crying as I witnessed his love for his lost child and his love for the folks who helped them in their time of need.

I have volunteered for several different charities that the motorcycling community supports, and have met some of the families and children whom we work to help, yet this was one of the most moving encounters I have had. What made it so special was that it was so random, like life itself. It caught me off guard; often, we tend to steel ourselves at events, protecting ourselves from directly sharing the pain so we can do the work of supporting the search for a cure. While the cure was not in time for this little girl and her family, they were nonetheless helped greatly by people like you. In this season of joy, giving, and celebration, think for a moment of the Christmas Carol and how the sight of Tiny Tim’s empty chair and crutch moved Scrooge to mend his ways. Thankfully, bikers don’t need the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to show them why it is so important to help others in need. It makes me proud to be a biker since we know: ‘Tis the Season to give—All Year Long. Bless you one and all for everything you do to help those less fortunate!

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Getting Some in the Afternoon

When do you like to do it? Do you have a favorite time or day? For a lot of folks it is early in the morning on the weekend. I have found that I enjoy it most as an afternoon delight. Take a Thursday around 3:30 PM; most folks are locked into their daily grind. While they hustle to get all the work done before the whistle blows, it is a perfect time for me to get oceans of motion going. John Lennon had it so right with the simple lyrical question: “why don’t we do it in the road?”

Tell me do you have a favorite partner to do it with? I do. This week I decided to get a certain passionate play friend of mine naked. I spent part of the morning slowly stripping her down, teasing off layers that concealed her inner beauty. Then I spent some time rubbing on her gently, massaging some lotions on her skin and getting her all oiled up. I stood back and admired her standing there in the middle of my garage naked as a jaybird. Her graceful curves and ample lungs exposed for the entire world to see. As my senses of passion and desire rose to a thundering roar, I knew it was time to have at it.

I donned my favorite black leathers. Since I was headed for some real kinky stuff this was only prudent. I keyed the garage door opener and listened to the groan of the steel rising. I slid my leg over her and settled my weight onto her inviting form. A smile crossed my face as I inserted my key and she leaped to life. I felt her tremble under me as I kicked her into gear and twisted the wick. In the wink of an eye we were off into paradise. God I love this bike!

The bike in question is a 2000 Buell ST3, which translates into a Sport-Touring Thunderbolt. It is the least aggressive Buell in terms of riding position, with the most powerful motor offered in its model year. At 101 HP and 90 ft-lbs of torque and a dry weight of 450 lbs (stripped of it’s bags and lowers) it is a joy to tear-up back roads with. I simply love to ride this bike in the mountains. If I can make time to escape the office during the week, it is my afternoon delight.Buell

I had decided to strip her down since this is the bike I am going to use for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Advanced Rider Course (ARC) that I am going to schedule in a few weeks. While those bags and fairing lowers don’t encumber the bike’s back roads manners and are darn good for touring or grocery shopping; I don’t want to have them on the bike if I have an oophs during class. I have taken several MSF Experienced Rider Course (ERC) courses over the years on various motorcycles and don’t have any oops that I can remember (age is great for the memory.) Still I know that this bike lends itself to aggressive riding and I want to save the bags for traveling.

I am really looking forward to doing the MSF ARC with this bike. It has been with me since midyear 1999 and I took an MSF ERC with it a few years ago. I have wanted to take the ARC but these past few years sure have been busy, well better late than never.   The ARC is a good way to get really comfortable with a machine and explore its limits in a controlled environment under the careful scrutiny of expert riders and instructors. It is like building a house on a solid foundation, it lasts longer and provides more security. The ARC will form the foundation of fresh knowledge for the ongoing process of practicing riding skills.

Let me tell you, well-practiced riding skills are worth their weight in gold. Even the midweek afternoon mountain roads devoid of almost all traffic are still rife with hazards. Whether it is gravel washed across a blind curve or small furry critters darting from the undergrowth, to the occasional crazed rooster wandering down the road, you need to be in total control. And yes there always will be the minivans filled with screaming children, piloted by multitasking parental units that seem to be on a seek and destroy mission with you as the target. I intend to be ready for it all.

All I have to do now is get the new tires mounted and scuffed in before the class weekend. I will tell you how my ARC goes in an upcoming blog post. But I can tell you now that after today’s ride; I think I might just keep this bike naked.

The Shop

DSCN2556It had been a long, long time—perhaps measured in eons—since I had visited a shop like this. Oh, mind you, I have been to countless dealerships of factory bikes lately. Shiny new edifices of brick and steel, polished to a high sheen, corporate logos blazing in neon. Highway billboards announcing their location for miles around. Service bays so clean and brightly lit that they resembled hospital operating rooms. Fine coffee flowing free and maybe a pool table to amuse you and some deep leather chairs to relax in while your steed is checked over and repaired. But not here. There was nary a greaseless seat available; in fact, the most comfortable place to sit was the curb of the parking lot. The only leather in sight was my riding gear and the only pool table was at the local bar/hooker hangout across the alley. As for coffee, well, although I make it strong enough to tan your stomach, I decided to pass on theirs; the smoke from the crusty pot smelled more like gear oil on an overheated muffler than coffee.

I was on the road, my machine needed service, and the nearest dealer didn’t work on my brand. So I found the shop. What is it they say about any port in a storm? I pulled up near the service door and dismounted. Like junkyard dogs, some shop kids came clamoring out to have a look-see at the unusual bike. Actually, my bike is not that unusual, but compared to the rusty, greasy, well worn-out machines lined up outside, it was surely a rare sight. I have not seen such a collection of dilapidated iron for almost as long as I haven’t seen a shop like this.

Here in the bad part of town, away from the genteel folks, where only the outcasts of society travel or ply their trades is where, decades ago, all motorcycles shops were located. At that time dealers of factory bikes weren’t commonly called dealerships, just motorcycle shops, and they definitely did not cater to today’s mainstream biker clientele. In those days we all were unwelcome in polite company, but we always had a home at the shop. Back in the halcyon days of my moto-youth, I spent uncountable hours—truly stated, days at a time—hanging around shops much like this one.

Of course, those long-ago shops were less cramped and slightly cleaner than this one, since rents, and everything else for that matter, were cheaper, and the equipment was probably newer than the bikes being worked on. Here, a look into the dark recesses of the service area revealed six bike lifts crammed into what would be the area of two service bays at a modern dealership. Under the dim glow of humming and flickering fluorescent lamps, aided by a few yellowish pools of illumination from work lights, the art of motorcycle repair was being practiced. A careful eye revealed that, although most of the machinery of the shop was older and greasier than the bikes on the lifts, it was all well cared for. Which was more than you could say for the bikes. Yes, this was a contemporary of the shops I haunted long ago, albeit now with the accumulated grime and wear and tear of the last several decades. Perhaps this is how I, and some of you, look to the new blood of our sub-culture—old and crusty, far from hip and new.

But can you blame them for considering shops like this, and vintage riders like us, as old and crusty? After all, most new folks in our sport have come along in the new golden years of motorcycling. A world built by the hard work and investment of dedicated enthusiasts like the folks at this shop, aided in the last few decades by the corporate success of America’s only surviving original motorcycle manufacturer. How many new folks are flooding to our ranks each year? How many come with their minds filled with images of TV-star bike-building in sano shops that are more stage sets than actual workplaces? Back in the day, if you drifted into this lifestyle, it was around shops like this, populated by old-timers with cigars permanently attached to their faces and grease tattooed into their hands. Punk kids like me were not welcomed openly, yet we were accepted and little did we know how much they liked having us around to learn the ways of the wheel and the wrench. “Sweep the floor, kid, and keep out of my way!” Well, that was then as this is now, but one thing has remained the same—this shop did right by me, good work at a fair price, with a greasy handshake thrown in for good measure.

If Motorcycles Were Dogs

The title seems a little strange, I know, but this one is like the truism: “If I have to explain, you won’t understand.” The idea is going to be closer to your heart than you might think—that is, if you are a biker or a dog lover, or both, like me.

First, let’s lay out what I think is a fact of life. How can anyone live, I mean really live, without riding a motorcycle? Yes, you can exist, survive, be a consumer, go from cradle to grave without ever throwing a leg over a motorcycle. My personal experience has revealed that you will not experience life, freedom, and self-reliance with the same in-your-face reality as riding provides. You might be connected in a 4G LTE social-networking, four-bars virtual way, but when the LI-ON battery is drained, where have you been that you will remember in life’s rocking chair? Virtually nowhere, plugged in, connected and absent all at the same time. It is today’s version of “turned-on, tuned-in and dropped-out.” No thanks!

So what if motorcycles were dogs? To start, let’s understand how motorcycles are not dogs. Bikes will sleep in your garage virtually forever without ever needing to go out. They don’t need food or water. In a sense, they never die. Left unused they will just fade away. You can walk by your bike everyday and it will never acknowledge your existence. Yet if you choose to key it to life, they will growl and run, as long as you tend to the battery.

If you have had dogs in your life, you know they demand a lot more attention than a parked bike. When you return home, they will put on a show filled with love and expectation of love, and maybe cookies in return. They require regular feeding and if you don’t take them outside on a very regular basis, you will be reminded in an unpleasant way. While you may walk past your own dog with little more than a following glance or sniff, strangers will receive a growl or a bark or a warning worth noticing. Sadly, dogs do die; this is one of the more painful realities that teaches you to pay attention to them while God graces you with their companionship. If you don’t know the pain of laying a good dog to rest, consider that having your bike stolen from under you at highway speed won’t even come close. Loosing a good dog is road rash on your soul; it heals, with time, yet while the pain fades it is not ever forgotten. Yes, I love my dogs—two lay near me as I write this—and my bikes. If you asked me to choose between them, I would know for sure that you were either insane or from the government. In either case, you would not like my answer.

So what if motorcycles were dogs, or at least like them? Well, on rainy days, they would pester you nonstop: “Hey, I am here, bored silly and I want your attention!” They would communicate in no uncertain terms that they want you to pet them, pander to them, love them, and assure them that the storm will pass and tomorrow the sun will shine again. They would in return remind you that indeed these dark skies will pass and tomorrow will be a new day filled with the possibilities of new adventures. Dogs want you to walk them, take them out to explore the world, to see the sights and smell the scents of life beyond the front yard. When you head for the door, they follow you in anticipation and unending hope. Dogs live in the now, there is no tomorrow, no maybe next time, no fear. They just are in the here and now and want you with them, and want to be with you more than words can express; yet tails will tell.

So imagine for a moment that that motorcycle parked in your autumn garage was your good and faithful dog? What would it communicate to you? Yes, it is cooler outside and the skies are gray, but let’s go and play. It would gently nudge you to get up off your butt and live. It would drop its keys in your lap and pace back and forth from you to the door with a grin on its face and a twinkle in its eye. It would love you. So what are you waiting for? Don’t let that bike fade away—ride while God graces you with a bike for a companion and the ability to ride. That rocking chair is closer than you think!

Evolutionary Road

Recently, I finally entered the GPS universe. I had resisted for years, having always felt that riding did not require me to know with the precision of a cruise missile where I was headed. Even when I did have a destination and a schedule, I was good to go with just a map and compass. If dead reckoning was good enough for the old timers, it was good enough for me. Besides, the more I ride, the more I see it as a way to get away, not to get to somewhere. I have never been lost, but even when I do get slightly misplaced, I always find new cool roads and places. A perfectly workable situation: just head out in the general direction and enjoy the journey because the journey is the best part.

So, why did I buy a GPS? Well, there are two different reasons. One is that I enjoy hiking; living in the Blue Ridge Mountains offers many such opportunities and a GPS is very helpful. The other, more relevant reason is that I have become increasing curious about all the different little roads I see. Here in the mountains there are so many routes that look great at their junction with the main road but quickly prove to be dead ends or to dwindle out into gravel. More often than not there isn’t any “No Outlet” or “Dead End” sign; you just find out the hard way. Paper maps of the region show a traveler’s level of detail, but I wanted more. I wanted an explorer’s tool.

So I tried Google Earth, and found that the satellite views are not all that recent; the same applies to other satellite view services. Then I looked into computer map programs, which offer some pretty good detail, but the cost of highly detailed map quadrants adds up fast. Besides, the computer stays home. I finally found a GPS unit with multiple maps that gives me the ones I need, along with a tool to log interesting roads as waypoints for later research on the computer. I can even look at them on satellite view so I can plan adventures. This is a new level of fun.

So the other day I put it all into use and laid out on the computer what looked like a cool ride, connecting several new roads, and then I downloaded it to the GPS unit and told it to start navigating. Unfortunately, it kept telling me that it could not do turn-by-turn with this map and these waypoints. After some time on the phone with the help center in India, I finally figured out (on my own) that I had to be a lot more precise in placing the waypoints for the route. When I did that, it worked. With the unit mounted on my handlebars, I was ready to explore.

Everything was working fine, but I did note that using a GPS for the first time can be distracting. I will have to develop the discipline of watching the road, not the unit. Several turns into my ride I came to a road I had been seeking for years, which was to be the high point of this trip: old US Route 70 between Black Mountain and Old Fort, NC, replaced long ago by Interstate 40. Well, guess what I found? It is there, but it ain’t a road anymore—it’s a gated paved bicycle and walking trail. And right at the start is a gravel road that, according to the map and GPS, wanders around and down the mountain to intersect with the other end of this trail. Since I know all too well that an 800-pound tour bike is not a dual-purpose vehicle, especially on unpaved mountain roads, I had to turn around and go back to dead reckoning to pick up the route further on.

It seems that progress, in the form of the interstate highway system, made the old route obsolete. Since it was no longer maintained, it was ultimately closed. Over time, a new use was found for that old roadbed and it was paved as a bike and hike trail. Yet people still wanted another way around, which is natural since the interstate, being limited access, doesn’t connect the little places in between exchanges. The roads in that area have evolved and devolved with the passage of time. I have seen it before around here: eventually, the gravel road will get tar and stoned, then after years of growth it will get paved. Some time in the future I will ride that newly paved old road, and sooner than that I will hike that new trail. In both cases, I will be traveling on evolutionary road.

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