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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.

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‘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!

#bikerbilly #bikerbillycom #motorcycle #beans #hotpeppers #bikerbillycookswithfire #cookswithfire #motorcycleriding #rideforkids #charity #motorcycleevents #christmas #spiritofgiving


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.


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.


Cheap Flashlights

Long ago at a hardware store far, far away, I made an impulse purchase—a package of three flashlights at an incredible price. They even included brand-name batteries. I should have known better. Within a short time, the big D-cell flashlight dismantled itself at a less-than-opportune time, and shortly afterward the mid-sized C-cell flashlight failed me, too. While it remained intact in an outward sense, the little parts that comprised the switch went awry. Was the Prince of Darkness in the flashlight business now? These were even less dependable than the Lucas electrics on vintage Brit bikes. As the old axiom goes, you get what you pay for.

As another saying goes, burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice, shame on me. I wasn’t getting burned a third time, and so the third flashlight was consigned to the junk drawer. Eventually, two household moves ago, it went into a box along with the rest of that drawer full of odd parts, wiring bits, loose screws, and other little items that seem to have no apparent use. How could a self-respecting biker discard those bits and pieces? Someday, out of that pile, I might pull the critical part to save the world, or at least return a bike to the road.

I also swore off those evil impulse purchases (well, at least when it came to flashlights) and proceeded to buy an indestructible, variable-focus, anodized aluminum flashlight for every bike I own. I even decked them out with carabineers so I could hang them from the bike for hands-free lighting during roadside service sessions. All was good with the world, darkness was forever banished, and time marched on.

A few months back I made a valiant effort to clear some space in the garage for a new riding mower. I unpacked a-dozen-plus boxes that I had moved unopened twice, and after wasting my time sorting through them, all I could save were a few odd fuses and a small AA flashlight. The batteries in it were still good, so I tossed it into the glove box of my truck and forgot about it.

Two days ago, I was out running some errands on a fine spring day with my dog Buddy and my truck. Like all dogs and bikers, Buddy likes the feel of the wind on his face and so, after sunset, when we encountered some road construction and a big traffic jam, I dodged off at the exit and decided to give Buddy a ride along the river road. This slower route would bypass all the traffic, keep us moving, and give Buddy a wide range of interesting things to sniff at out the window.

A short way from town in a deserted industrial area, I spotted an older touring bike on the side of the road. It had its flashers on and the rider was peering at the motor in the darkness. I pulled in behind it, put on my four-ways and high beams to illuminate the situation, and hopped out to see if I could help. Seems he had a fuel-delivery related problem, as the bike had been recently serviced for this very same issue. His garage couldn’t come and pick it up, but with some cell-phone advice from his mechanic and the flashlight from my truck, we figured a way to get the bike to run. I followed him as he limped to an open service station at the edge of town where there was light, fresh fuel, and he could be safely off that dark windy road while he sorted out his machine.

He was very thankful for my help and tried to offer me something as a thank you. I politely declined, asking instead that he pass the help along and stop for another stranded biker. He assured me he wasn’t far from home and expected the fresh fuel would make a big improvement. As I got into the truck and started to put the flashlight back into the glove box, I realized he needed it more than I did. I handed it to him out the window and drove off into the night.

Yesterday I bought one of those fancy flashlights for my truck as a replacement. While in the hardware store, I remembered just where that flashlight I gave away came from—it was bought on impulse at another hardware store long ago. Maybe, in this case, I did get more than I paid for. I think I will add one of those cheap flashlights to each vehicle I own; they do have a value, after all.


Cafe Racer Begets C.A.F.E. Warrior

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!


Shifting Gears

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.