Many years ago, when I lived in New York City, my only form of personal transportation, besides shoe leather, was a motorcycle. Cars in the Big Apple were a curse, with garage space costing as much as a suburban apartment, and street parking requiring that one’s whole life revolved around arcane alternate-side-of-the-street rules, meter maids, and the ever-prowling tow trucks. Before the bike I used mass transit locally and rented cars to escape the land of hot tin roofs and taxi cabs. Then came the bike.
That first bike changed everything; I had, to quote The Who, “Gone Mobile.” The world opened up for me—now I could go anywhere anytime, and I did. From supermarket to superslab to rural America I did roam. As time passed and I moved into the suburbs to be closer to the good riding roads, I became a commuter. I thrived on the daily combat of hustling a motorcycle through rush-hour traffic with all the manic cagers, buses, and cabs. In the days before Rudy Giuliani, and to some respects 9/11, New York was almost a Wild West frontier town. The roads were nearly lawless, especially around rush hour and in the tunnels that go under the Hudson River. Nowadays it is much different, but back then almost anything went, and you had to fight to survive.
I learned to ride kick-butt-or-die style in NYC—you just made them other drivers know you were there and they better give you space, or forgettaboutit. Of course, it did not hurt that back then everyone bought the Hollywood B-movie crap that bikers packed weapons and were more dangerous than a herd of woolly mastodons. One good scowl at a driver at a tunnel merge, or a glove-fisted tap on their window, was all it took; no horn needed, just yell at them.
I also insisted on running all my errands on the bikes. The dresser could haul enough groceries for a week, and any excuse to ride was welcomed. Heck, I brought a sewing machine home from the mall once, with a passenger to boot. I even brought home a completely decorated Christmas tree on a 650cc cruiser, riding the length of Manhattan, but I digress. Suffice it to say that I used the bike for every errand or trip that I could. That is, until one day.
I had just returned from a three-week, almost 9000-mile trip from New Jersey down to the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, across to L.A, up to Vancouver, B.C., across Canada and then back home to N.J. All those miles were covered uneventfully. I woke up the next day and needed to go to the store; my poor other bike had wasted away for three weeks without being ridden. Off I went, and two miles from the house a yuppie lady in the left-turn-only lane with her left-turn signal blinking suddenly made a right turn; she was headed into a gas station to ask for directions. Unfortunately for her, there was no one there since they were closed. Unfortunately for me, I was in the right lane at the time. No amount of safety training could save me from her mistake and the laws of physics. She clipped me. What is it they say about the first five miles from home being the most dangerous?
Well, by the time I had learned to walk again and the bike was repaired, I had decided that I would just use the bikes for pleasure and not for little trips to the store where the mindless and lost wander comfortably in their minivans. That is, until recently.
My bikes get between 35 and 50 MPG, the highest-efficiency vehicles in my personal Citizen’s Average Fuel Efficiency (or C.A.F.E.) rating. Since we have been getting &%^$ lately by the combination of OPEC, hurricanes, Big Oil, and environmentalists preventing the building of new oil refineries or new domestic oil production since the 1970’s oil-embargo days, I have decided to brush off my old NYC biker armor. I am riding my bike on every errand or trip that I can. I am also telling everyone who will listen that I am fighting back by riding and doing my part to lower the demand for fuel. So look out SUV America—that woolly biker is roaming into the war zone of the supermarket parking lot. You might want to do the same and tell EVERYBODY. Maybe we can make it a movement, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie: an entire two-wheeled Motorcycles-Are-Everywhere-Saving-Gas Movement. Bikes and Bikers Rules!
Unless you have an automatic, a rare bird in motorcycling, shifting gears is a constant part of riding. Shift up, shift down, row those gears and keep the motor in the power band—then you are always ready to respond to changes in traffic. Being prepared to respond to changing conditions is part of both the challenge and excitement of riding a motorcycle, and it is in the ability to effectively respond to change that our greatest advantage is found. As any experienced rider knows, traffic is only one of many shifting challenges that we must contend with—there’s also road surfaces, speed zones, unexpected debris, contours of the land, and fickle weather. Then there are the changes that occur on a longer cyclical basis; while these are more predictable than, say, finding a retread carcass in your path, they can still surprise you if you let them.
Seasons come and seasons go, and each has its own unique requirements in terms of riding gear. If you ride beyond the peak warm season, you will probably need to make changes of gear during the course of any long day’s ride. While it is true that summer (or, for that matter, winter) rides can call for changes of gear, fall and spring days are truly the gear-shifting seasons. Turn that day ride into a weekend excursion, and the potential changes of gear can become dramatic. Over the past few weeks this has become very apparent to me again. One would think that with a few decades of riding under my saddle, I would have made the shift automatically. No such luck.
Years ago, living in the snow belt of New Jersey, it always seemed that the cooler weather came on like throwing a light switch. One day you walked outside and—ouch—it was markedly cooler and you got the very clear message that things had changed. However, where I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the shifting seasons are much more subtle, more like a constant-velocity transmission than a standard shift. While it may feel just fine to walk the dog in shorts and a t-shirt, enjoying the sunshine and gentle mountain breezes, it is another thing entirely to go riding. Last week my three-season perforated-leather jacket was still hot riding all day in it; the other day it felt great when I started, but by the time I got home it was feeling a little too air-conditioned. (OK, it was actually cold.) Along the way I stopped to add a layer, only to find that my cool-weather gear was not in the saddlebags. Standing at a scenic mountaintop pullout, I remembered removing all that stuff a few weekends ago for some early Christmas shopping at some of our favorite little touristy shops.
What had been good planning for a late-summer ride through the mountains, with lunch and shopping as a destination, had shifted into poor planning for an early-fall ride into higher elevations. Luckily, a refolded map placed between the jacket perforations and me cut the cold breeze enough to get home—old-fashioned paper maps can’t give you turn-by-turn directions or instantly reroute you if you miss a street the way GPS units do, but they cover a lot more frozen biker than a three-inch LCD screen will. That day it seemed as if the seasons had short-shifted on me, but then the next day was 80 degrees and shorts weather again. Well, that is nature after all: she is a fickle woman and you are wise to not fool with her.
Now the bike is repacked with the correct gear to handle any seasonal shift in the weather. Of course, this means I couldn’t bring home much of anything from the store if I wanted to. There is maybe just enough room for a container of broccoli in spicy garlic sauce, but I will tell you another time why I will never put that in my saddlebags again. As 2010 slowly shifts from prime riding season into fall foliage, then downshifts again into winter, I am ready to respond to the changes in temperature. Gear-wise at least. But I also have to shift my riding technique and my hazard alertness. The ranks of lumbering RVs and spandex-clad bicyclists are thinning, but wet leaves and the dreaded black ice will soon replace them. And somewhere in between that shift will be the leaf lookers, driving around with their eyes, and minds, in the trees. So as the seasons and the hazards shift, keep your eyes on the road and traffic and your bike in the power band.
I am sure all of you know that old childhood game: Rock, Paper, Scissors. Unless I am mistaken, there was even an adult version that was a reality TV show with a Las Vegas finale and a large cash prize. For those of you who either had a deprived childhood or have lost too many brain cells to remember, the game goes like this—two players face each other and each makes a fist. Then they raise and lower their fists three times, and on three they throw their choice of rock, paper, or scissors. Rock is a fist, paper a flat hand, and scissors a pair of fingers held in a V shape. The rules are simple: rock breaks scissors, paper covers rock, and scissors cut paper. It is a fair game; anyone can win just so long as the opponent happens to choose the weaker option. Often this game is use by children to decide the outcome of some issue that is not readily resolved by consensus, like who gets the good player on their team, or who get to go first.
Well, I have a feeling that some so-called adults have invented a new version of this game, one that can be played to deadly consequences, and often for things of equally little value as who goes first. I have seen it played on roads all over the country, even in my polite, peaceful mountain home. Fortunately, I have not seen it played to the death or even major injury, but I have heard the stories of folks hospitalized for months or, worse, killed. I must admit that I too have succumbed to the temptation to play, though fortunately with no harm to anyone, aside from the psychic shock of knowing I just did something stupid that could have gotten me killed. Heck, as I look back to my earlier days of riding a motorcycle in New York City, I remember being a master at the game; the fact that I am here to write this proves that I was undefeated. However, ask any child—no one remains undefeated at Rock, Paper, Scissors forever; sooner or later winners become losers. In my case, I can only believe that it is simply by the grace of God that I stopped playing before I lost.
In the new game played on our highways and byways, the issues being decided are never worth the consequences, especially to the loser. For the winner the price of victory can often be cheap, even when the loser has lost his or her life. The rewards for winning can only be valued by folks with a twisted value system, in my humble opinion. The game has at least three choices for the players: truck, car, motorcycle, though sometimes you can add bicycles or mopeds. The game is played for high stakes, as in life or death, yet the players never see that until it is too late. The method of play varies according to the players, the road, and the momentary object in contention, but it always seems to start with a few basic mindsets on the part of the initiator—selfishness, disrespect, and maliciousness. In reality it is not a game at all, but it is truly childish to engage in it.
It could be a bicycle hogging a whole lane on a twisty mountain road, forcing a motorcyclist to cross the double yellow to pass, or a motorcycle recklessly disregarding that same yellow line to pass a car. A car and tractor-trailer playing tag, endless passing each other just so they can be “first” on the highway, or a pickup truck and sports car weaving in and out of crowded traffic to avenge some perceived affront to their man- or womanhood. The examples are endless in their mutations, yet they all have a common thread: they are ignorant, the road is not a school playground, and road users are supposed to be adults. While we can work with the American Motorcyclist Association to pursue the Justice For All Campaign—designed to make drivers responsible for injuring or killing others—there are a few things that will not change. Roadway confrontations are not a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors because there will always be the inherent unfairness of size. It goes like this: truck crushes car, car flattens motorcycle, motorcycle smashes bicycle. It is not a game, folks, so while we wage the good war to pass better laws and hopefully train better drivers, I would like to offer some sage advice, given to me by a highway patrolman in lieu of a ticket. Let the idiot who wants to play games go, slow down, turn off the road, take an alternate route, don’t ever pull over to “talk it out.” If they follow you, head to a place with lots of witnesses, or better yet to the local police station. The only way to win in this game is to not play. Ride Safe out there so you can ride another day.
Do you remember where it all started for you, this two-wheel passion thing? Of course you remember that first motorcycle ride, as surely as you remember your first carnal experience. Odds are that you remember your first bike as clearly as your first lover. While those memories of that first ride and first bike are certainly strong, clear, and close to the surface of our awareness, I believe that for most of us, those memories are not truly the primal ones, the ones that really inspired our moto-selves.
Somewhere, perhaps deeply buried or simply unrecognized by our conscious minds, there lays a deeper memory. An experience or happening in our lives that came first in the sequence, which programmed us into the bikers we have grown to be. It is the first line of moto-code in our two-wheeled DNA. This often simple, maybe even innocuous experience became the first turn in our learning curve of self that ultimately brought the bike/s into our garages and landed this blog on your screen today. Ponder it for a moment or two. Can you trace it back past the obvious?
I think I may have traced mine back, but the pathway to awareness that I took today came not from an intended introspection but rather from telling my wife the history of one of the objects from my past that lives in my garage. Let me explain. My garage is equal to the size of my house; it is home to my motorcycles and, like yours probably is, is also filled with all those things that as a packrat I cannot bear to discard. I spent today working in the garage clearing an area for a workbench and reorganizing my assorted packrat stuff. It was near the end of this process that the awareness of my primal memory arrived.
Mary, my sweetheart, brought me a cold beverage, and while I took a short break from my work to talk with her, she asked about an unusual piece of furniture sitting in the pile of stuff I was rearranging. My father, who was a carpenter, made the item in question; it was designed to custom-fit in an apartment my parents and I lived in long ago. My father passed away when I was six and my mother kept it when we moved because it was one of the things he had made. However, it did not fit in any place my mom lived since I was ten. When my mother passed in 1990, it came to my garage, and it hasn’t found a purpose in any place that I have lived, either—that is, until today. It carried a memory revealing a purpose so much deeper than its function as a piece of custom furniture.
During the process of relating the idea and the origin of this object to my sweetheart, I described my childhood home to her. I told her of the floor plan of this railroad-style flat and where it was located in the South Bronx. When I described my room, I came across that primal memory. My bedroom was the last room in the back and its windows faced towards the middle of the city block. About three blocks from my bedroom windows was the Cross Bronx Expressway, a fifties-style, sunken highway that cut across the Bronx, connecting the northeastern suburbs and states with New York City and the George Washington Bridge.
That major artery, while not as crowded then as it is today, was busy all day and night with traffic. The canyon-like structure of the road made the sounds of engines and spinning wheels echo through the local streets and alleyways and into my bedroom. When I was describing that room and the sounds that inhabited it, I had one of those moments of clarity that is often accompanied by an expression of: Aha! Those first years of my life I slept to the lullaby of the road as it played its constant, almost unnoticed drone over the slumbering city. I realized that the music of engines and the road was ingrained into me from way before I even saw my first motorcycle. For me, that was the first line of code that programmed the wanderlust and moto-mania into my soul. Till this day, whenever I sometimes hear a motor roaring in the distance or the chorus of singing tires and honking horns, I feel a sense of comfort in those sounds. I reconnect with my Primal Memories.
Copyright Bill Hufnagle 2014
Not the Jersey shore but the shores of Lake Erie for the sixth annual Roar on the Shore Rally. This is one of the fastest growing rallies in the United States with over 80,000 riders attending each July for this three-day extravaganza. Kicking off on Thursday July 19, 2012 Roar on the Shore promises something for everybody from rides to bands to bike contest and shows. To get the weekend off to a roaring start, Biker Billy will be setting the stage ablaze with two shows on Thursday the 19th. Just ride on down to the hub of the event venue and get a taste of the fire and a few good laughs as we Cook with Fire together.
This is more than just a rally that is fun to attend. It is a major fundraising event for local charities in the Erie, Pennsylvania region. It is also an area blessed with great riding and the beauty of the Great Lake Erie, so wherever you point your front wheel you will find adventure. I invite you to ride over and enjoy the shows and spend the weekend in the beauty of northwestern Pennsylvania and enjoy the hospitality of the greater Erie community. Till I see you there Eat Hot and Ride Safe!
In this the last week of calendar winter, the temps have been oh so spring-like. Not surprising considering the truly mild winter we have had. That mildness has been a blessing, at least to me, as I despise winter. But moving beyond my personal opinion of winter and my admitted disaffection towards the coldest season of the year – can you imagine how much more fuel our nation would have needed this winter if it had been as cold and harsh as the past few winters have been? Couple that with the current price of gas approaching four dollars a gallon after setting record highs during this winter, and you can easily imagine how much further fuel costs would have risen.
Of course I might just be rationalizing my ill disposition with old man winter. Then there is the fact that weather is truly the most local thing, even more so than politics. So your weather may have been different than mine but at least spring is about to be sprung from its frozen prison. That means just one thing to the soul of a biker – it is riding season again. So I took a little ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway and this time I remembered the camera (or three that is), so I made a little video for your enjoyment. Check out the link : PreSpring Ride Craven Gap to Bull Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway
With temps reaching to almost 70 degrees this week, making it amazingly delightful for a late February it was time for some riding. So on Thursday afternoon I finished my work early, and performed a quick safety check on the Buell. Donning my leathers, closing all the vents first, I set out on a local errand in Weaverville. Within five miles of the house my errand completed, before remounting the bike I had to open the arm vents on my three-season jacket. I was actually a touch too warm, in February. With that last responsibility out of the way I slipped onto Interstate 26 to hustle quickly north and out of town while opening up the motor a little. I took the first exit, which allowed me to head across Jupiter Road through some nice twisty and well paved country roads. Just the thing needed to warm up the tires and the reflexes before assaulting my planned pavement objective. I had intended to ride up and down River Road along side the French Broad a couple of times before topping off the fuel tank and heading home to cook dinner. I am working on a new cookbook, so the kitchen calls my attention a lot these days.
But my front wheel stayed glued on a northward heading. When the road turned left at the Little Laurel River for the final ascent toward Hot Springs, I encountered the first pocket of cold air. Resolving in my mind to turn around at Hot Springs, I blasted up and over Fire Fly Mountain. When I arrived in Hot Springs I noted that a new building has been built where the old Paddlers Rest had been torn down last year. That was a favorite lunch stop in years gone by, but the old building left a lot to be desired. Hopefully they will return. I sure liked the mini eggrolls and the salad with Granny Smith apples, goat cheese and Vidalia onion dressing. I was so lost in my food thoughts that I just puttered through town and out onto Route 209. Once there I just pressed on.
I had not intended to ride this road; one of my favorite roads, since I just felt it would surely have too much sand or debris from the recent snows and rains to be enjoyable. Much to my surprise it was clean and clear. There were some damp areas where if the temps were below freezing it would have been pure black ice. I kept thinking that if this road was up north in New Jersey it would be impassable until early April most years. Ah the joys of Carolina living and riding. I stopped a couple of times to grab a few pictures to share. Having forgotten to take a camera, I relied on my iPhone. Check out the views and the curves on Route 209 and later along Route 63 heading back towards Leicester and Asheville.
In the end I had almost taken the exact route I would have taken on a midsummers evening as an after dinner ride. I just completely missed my target of riding River Road. Well that leaves something for tomorrow.