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 :).

Those Killer Minivans

It’s one thing to ride on a mostly empty road, even at speed. It’s another thing entirely to ride — even at low speed — in traffic. On the open road the main risk factor is you and your ability to spot road hazards and the occasional vehicle entering or exiting the flow.

In traffic the threats are everywhere, and frequently come at you simultaneously from different directions. Even sedate minivans take on a whole other aspect when they’re bearing down on you, driven by a stressed mom late getting her kids to their next appointment :).

I experienced all this today when I rode out to see how the other half lives, taking El Camino Real south to Atherton. I figured I needed the practice. You can’t always ride on lightly traveled roads, after all. In the end, it all worked out fine; not even any near misses.

Cruising Atherton was… interesting. I’m not used to seeing homes on acre-plus size lots. Nor seeing such a wide variety of architectural styles on the same (admittedly long) block. Aesthetic conflict is probably less of an issue when the homes are spaced that far apart.

 

 

Oh, The Ignominy!

Today I rode out to Skyline Drive (basically the spine of the Peninsula) and went down to Woodside via Huddart Park. The traffic was stop-and-go up Highway 92 to the Skyline turnoff because of everyone heading over to Half Moon Bay and the beach. Once I turned south there was almost no one else on the road. Just me, the forest, and some beautiful vistas to both the west and the east.

Descending into Woodside involved taking Kings Mountain Road, a reasonably steep and pretty twisty route. I was in second gear on that section for most of the way, and rarely exceeded 20 miles per hour. Better safe than sorry, after all, when you’re a new rider and you’re on an unfamiliar road.

But the end result was I got passed.

By two other riders.

On bicycles.

Oh, the shame! 🙂

Actually, it was almost comical. But only almost. Because one of the bicyclists rode parallel to me through some very twisty bits for long enough that I turned my head to him and said “dude, what do you think you’re doing?” In any kind of unfortunate interaction between me, my 30 pounds of protective gear and a 430 pound bike — and him in his biker shorts — I’m pretty sure I know who would end up on the short end of the stick. And it wouldn’t be me. I guess he just didn’t want to wait for a straighter stretch.

But that was only a brief annoyance on an otherwise beautiful ride. Punctuated by relaxing with a cappuccino and a lemon bar at Woodside Bakery & Cafe. Definitely a ride worth repeating.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I’ve been having a lot of fun learning to ride my new motorcycle. Yesterday I cruised through Portola Valley — very pretty horse country — which I don’t recall ever visiting before. The day before I checked out parts of Hillsborough and came back along Skyline and Canada Drives.

I had my first experience with not being heavy enough to trip the signal light switch at the Skyline/Canada intersection. A bit of a heart-in-the-throat moment turning left on red (lawful in California after two complete cycles of the light), but it all worked out fine.

Today I tried to squeeze in a ride before the rain showed up. I thought I’d do the Hillsborough/Skyline/Canada/Edgewood loop…but by the time I got to Hillsborough via Crystal Springs I realized “this is not a good idea” — rain coming! — and turned back.

I managed to miss any heavy downpour (that arrived after I got home). But as a result of being relieved to get home in one piece I forgot to put the kickstand down after I shut off the bike in my driveway…and I didn’t forget to get off the bike :(.

It turns out (for me, at least) you only have about one second to realize you’ve made a mistake before that 430 pound piece of equipment is so far off vertical that you can’t stop it. Fortunately, I was able to make it a controlled fall — one positive result from all those hours in the gym — but even a nice-and-easy lay down is a lay down. Sigh.

It took Caroline and me working together to get it back upright (Thanks, Caroline!). Except for the shift lever getting bent a bit there wasn’t any damage. A few minutes with a heavy pair of pliers fixed the shifter, at least temporarily. But I think I’ll run it by a real bike mechanic to make sure it’s okay.

Memo 5,913 to file: always put the kickstand down before you get off the bike!

You Just Think You Know How to Fill a Tank

For day 2 I rode around Redwood Shores — great place to practice shifting, as there are few cars and a LOT of stop signs — Belmont and Emerald Hills.

I learned first-hand how motorcycles are invisible (they are, even when a driver makes eye contact with you). Not by a near miss, but by being passed by another biker whom I did not see behind me, despite frequent mirror checks. Interestingly, he didn’t do the secret wave as he went by. Then again, he was weaving among cars, splitting lanes, etc. Clearly a moral degenerate :).

I also set a new personal speed record, hitting 45 mph on one stretch. Not that I’m trying to set records — believe me, 25 mph on a bike feels very fast! — but because that was the speed limit, and it was the speed at which the traffic was moving. And if you’re going to ride roads, you have to be able to keep up with the flow.

The gyroscopic balancing effect of the spinning tires was much more pronounced at higher speeds, making the bike more stable. But it also became more resistant to turns, requiring “formal” countersteering rather than just leaning.

Unfortunately, I also picked up a shard of rock on my rear tire which is going to have to be repaired. The tire’s not leaking, or if it is it’s doing so very slowly. But it’s not safe to ride with a tire that may go out on you. I have no desire to practice the emergency procedures they taught us in the Basic Skills class.

One truly comic moment from today’s ride: Having run the gas tank down to about 1/4 full (I left the dealership yesterday with half a tank) I wanted to fill up before going home. No big deal, right? I’ve filled gas tanks on cars thousands of times.

Only it turns out motorcycle gas tanks are different. You can’t stick the nozzle in particularly far. Certainly nowhere near as far as you can with a car.

Which is a problem in any state, like California, which requires vapor recovery systems at gas stations.

After a few frustrating minutes I gave up and rode home. A quick goggle search showed that the easiest solution is to pull back the vapor recovery sheath — which normally happens automatically when you press the nozzle into your car’s filling tube — by hand. Simple, but not obvious.