Road Trip #1: The Map

Here’s the route I pretty much followed, although it doesn’t show the side excursion to where the road was closed on the way to Mount Hamilton, and some of the details on the exact path I followed from Coalinga to Los Banos may be off.

Total distance, about 450 miles.

Road Trip #1: Day 3

There are interesting patches of California which are near major urban areas, but totally divorced from them. Consider this Google Earth view of the area to the southeast of the Bay Area:

San Antonio Valley

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It’s surrounded to the north, east and west by heavily populated and/or developed areas. Yet there’s almost nothing there. Granted, it is up in what passes for “the mountains” to Bay Area residents. But while they occasionally get snow, they’re not all that high. I always thought it would be fun to explore them.

My last day of this road trip was supposed to involve crossing this area, starting from the San Joaquin Valley and ending up in San Jose, by way of Mount Hamilton. Things didn’t quite work out that way, after I ran into “road closed” signs on highway 130 in the middle of the area, several miles short of Mount Hamilton.

Fortunately, one of the great things about riding a bike for pleasure is that detours are mainly an excuse to ride more. So after stopping for a quick bite to eat at The Junction (the only eatery for miles, but the food was quite tasty), I headed north towards Livermore, and then came west over the Dumbarton Bridge and back into San Carlos. 

The stretches of road up in the mountains were quite a workout, and a lot of fun. I kicked my turning abilities up a few notches, by learning to lean further into turns while avoiding the feeling that you’re on some kind of amusement park ride. The trick seems to be to shift your center of mass down into the turn, while twisting your torso so that your head stays centered above the center of mass of you and the bike, minimizing rotational forces (which play havoc with the inner ears of those of us who aren’t Olympic ice skaters). Sounds easy, and it actually isn’t all that hard, but you end up working yourself and the bike quite a bit. Which may explain why I was both tired and hungry when I finished riding those great twisties.

One interesting road hazard I encountered was…cattle. Wandering around the side of the road, and sometimes on the road. I’m not sure who is more surprised by these encounters, me or the cattle.

The highlighted area on the map is the San Antonio Valley. Which is absolutely gorgeous (and apparently a favorite of birders, at least at certain times of the year). Sadly, it doesn’t offer any lodging (the woman working The Junction told me people kept trying to start lodges, but they kept going out of business). Granted, you can’t ski or swim in the Valley…but it would be a great place to kick back and get away from it all, without having to travel for hours to get there.

Road Trip#1: Day 2

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Today I road from Hollister to Los Banos, by way of Coalinga. The ride down Ca 25 was as spectacular as I remembered from when a Barbara and I drove it north to avoid traffic on US 101. Except this time it was a lot more green, courtesy of our winter rains. 

The last leg into Coalinga I did on Coalinga Road, which is a not terribly well maintained, fairly narrow bit of pavement. Which runs thru some beautiful, off the beaten track scenery. 

I was accompanied on that segment by Houston, a rider a bit older than me who lives in the Central Valley and was out exploring. We met at the Coalinga Road jump off, because the turn off isn’t labeled and his GPS had stopped working, so he wanted confirmation he was on the right route, which I was able to supply. It was nice having company, because there’s no cell coverage there, so if I’d had an accident, my iPhone-based crash detector would’ve been kinda useless. 

I also got to meet his rubber chicken squeak toy, Nasa. Because if he runs into difficulties, “Houston, we have a problem” 😀. I need to get a mascot of my own. 

From Coalinga to Los Banos I stayed off I-5, because I wanted to see a part of California most coastal denizens zoom by. It was both rewarding, to see one after another long established community exercising its creativity, and poignant, because many of them are struggling, or at least feel passed by. 

They all showed quite a bit of bustle, though. We’d all be better off, I think, if we figured out a way to link all that energy to the big pillars of the modern economy. Just think what it would be like to have a dozen Silicon Valleys and Biotech Gulches, all in California. Starting with the fact that mere mortals might be able to aspire to owning a home near where they work.

Road Trip #1: Day 1

  • Okay, on with the trip,

Day 1 was a brief hop from Santa Cruz to Hollister, getting ready to cruise thru the mountains behind the Pinnacles tomorrow. Assuming no one steals my bike overnight at the motel; even a sport tourer only weighs 650 pounds, and can be picked up by a few guys, even while locked (I’m not worried; besides, if you want to tour, you’ve gotta park somewhere). 

Hollister is a neat little city, mostly based on agribusiness I think. 

A few observations from the ride…

  • there’s a lot of beautiful landscape in California, which you don’t appreciate all that much when you travel by freeway;
  • there appears to be a significant Filipino-American population around here — I came across several signs announcing organizations and events focused on them;
  • the most impressive building in Hollister that I came across was a huge one dedicated to local veterans, which was nice to see;
  • there was a lot of traffic, even on the backroads…which was interesting, because the population density doesn’t seem all that high (it is an agricultural area, after all)

Road Trip #1: Day 0

My first official motorcycle road trip…meaning a multi day ride only being undertaken to sightsee from the saddle :).

This sequence should start with day 1…but since the adventure almost ended before it began, I thought starting with day 0 was appropriate. 

I’ve only laid a bike down three times, once on the road (thanx, Stanford, for putting me back together almost as good as new!) and twice in my driveway. The first time came on my first (unintentional) trip in the rain shortly after I started riding, when I was so relieved to get home in one piece that I forgot to put down the kickstand when I got off the bike. Turns out bikes can’t balance by themselves. 

Getting ready for this trip led to the second. It was drilled into me, in the CHP sponsored class I took to get my license, that you always, always check the lights, brake lights, turn signals, etc, before you get on a bike. 

My new Yamaha FJR, though, doesn’t turn on the headlight when you turn it on. The engine has to be running. So I adapted my training to include putting the bike in neutral and starting the engine. That let me check the headlights. 

But I forgot to shut it down and put it back into gear before mounting the luggage carriers. So, when torquing the luggage carriers to ensure they were securely mounted…I caused the bike to slide forward a fraction of an inch. Which was enough to destabilize the kickstand, and cause it to fold back into riding position. 

Bikes don’t balance well when their kickstands are up. You’d think I would’ve learned that. 

Sigh. Mucho $$$ damage to repair on a brand new bike, including a jittery left side mirror. But the dealer assured me the mirror wouldn’t come off, so I’m going on the long-planned trip anyway (turns out this kind of damage is not uncommon on FJRs). 

Memo to file: always leave the bike in gear when it’s parked and you’re not in the saddle. 

Meet the New Guy

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After thoroughly enjoying my Honda CB500X for years, I decided to upgrade. In part, I wanted more comfort, and some convenience features useful on longer trips. I also wanted to move beyond a chain-driven bike (most motorcycles transfer power from the engine to the rear wheel via what amounts to an amped-up bicycle chain…and those have to be maintained every 500 miles or so, at least on my Honda CB500X). Since most bike manufacturers don’t make drive-shaft bikes with small engines, I looked into buying a touring bike.

But then I found the Yamaha FJR-1300, a “sport touring” bike. Meaning it does touring just fine, looks sporty, and handles like a dream.

I experienced some trepidation about riding it home from the dealership. Would I be able to adapt to a slightly different shift lever location and a different handle bar configuration? How hard would it be to suddenly be operating a 1300cc/135 horsepower engine when all my experience was on a 500cc/45 horsepower engine? Would I blow myself off the saddle the first time I opened the throttle?

In the end, the transition was almost totally a non-event. The throttle is responsive, but not overly so, and you can leave it only a bit above “idle” for most city streets. My clutch work will probably suffer, because Yamaha rigged the clutch so when you start to engage it, the engine throttles up a bit. No more feathering the throttle when shifting, in most situations!

I ran into only three minor situations I have to work on:

  • the turn signal and horn controls are reversed from how Honda configures them. It’s embarrassing to blow the horn when you mean to signal a lane change.
  • the left foot rest moves more easily than on the Honda, so you can accidentally raise it when you don’t mean to. Disconcerting to put your shifting foot down and encounter nothing but air.
  • while the extra 200 pounds the bike sports is generally not noticeable, it sneakily shows up when making right turns from a stop on inclines. Oh, and pushing the heavier bike back into the garage, by foot, is much harder. Have to increase the weights I use on knee presses at the gym!

But, all in all, it’s a beautiful machine, and a dream to ride. Absolutely rock solid and stable when in motion (that’s the plus side of that extra weight).

Farewell, Faithful Steed!

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You were a great introduction to a pastime that I’ve grown to love more and more each year. And I don’t hold my one accident against you — it was clearly human error.

Fare the well…

Riding After

I went for my second motorcycle ride in about eight months yesterday. The hiatus was due to a fairly bad accident (seven broken ribs and some bone in my upper back), punctuated by getting my bike back from the shop last October. It was much easier to repair the bike than it was to patch me up!

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That’s No Moon…er, Hose!

One of the necessary skills to be a successful — as in “don’t go down” — rider is scanning the roadway in front of you. That’s true of driving a car, too, of course. But it’s more important on a bike because you have a lot less road grip — two tires instead of four, each narrower to boot — and turning a bike involves leaning — which reduces the footprint of your tires further — where turning a car does not. So you’re constantly looking for stuff which, in a car, you would ignore, or simply hit with impunity.

The other day I was coming back on CA-84 from San Gregorio Beach — a great ride — when I saw a piece of hose in my path. I could tell it wasn’t stiff, like a pipe, because it was in curves. Needless to say I swerved to avoid it.

As I passed by I realized it wasn’t a hose. It was a big, fat, honking snake, sunning himself on the roadway. In fact, I think it was a rattlesnake. Although it might have been a California garter snake, they can look similar enough to a rattler that it’s hard to tell the difference as you zoom by at 55 MPH.

Those Speed-Crazed Bicyclists

Motorcycle riders have a reputation of being disreputable, law- and convention-flouting people. But in terms of insane, hang-it-out-over-the-edge chutzpah they have nothing on bicycle riders :).

The other day I was coming down into Woodside on CA-84 through the twisties. If you’ve ever driven that stretch of highway you know that it can be a workout. Posted at 35 MPH, I have yet to see anyone hit that speed except perhaps on some of the brief straightaways. I like to ride it to practice skills, and to assess them, too: I’ve noticed that the more experience I get riding, the smoother my handling of the curves and dips is.

I was quite impressed — I think that’s the word — to be coming down the incline behind a bicyclist. Who was going — maybe — a couple of miles per hour slower than I would have gone without him in front of me. In fact, I fell behind him at some points as he flew through some of the transitions. And him with essentially no protective gear on other than a helmet.

So when we finally exited the twisties and I passed him I did something that’s frowned on in the motorcycle world. I gave him a big thumbs up (riders and bicyclists are a bit like cats and dogs; an uneasy peace is generally the norm). He earned it…even if he was nuts :).