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Showing posts from February, 2013

What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Crazy things I do: Get puppy-dog eyes for every bike that passes

Remember when you were a kid and you'd hear a fire engine? Your ears would perk up and you'd run to the window to see the enormous red machine zip past – whose house was it going to? What exciting thing was that siren speeding toward? If you were out playing with friends, almost instinctively a siren would cause the group of you to jump on your bicycles and pedal, hell for leather, toward the sound. This is how I now behave when I hear a motorcycle engine.
I have become surprisingly good at picking out a motorcycle's engine from a distance. Those of you playing along in the United States may not think it an impressive a skill, but in the UK people drive tiny-engined cars. None of my friends drive cars with larger than a 1.4-litre. A BMW in this country offers only 1.6. And on these minuscule cars the chavs install noise-enhancing exhausts. From the right distance, a person could get confused.
But I can hear the difference. A motorcycle's engine sounds more authentic. …

What I Want: Suzuki GW250 Inazuma

It's not the coolest-looking thing, I'll admit. With its headlight reminiscent of Cobra Commander's helmet and oversized mud guards, the Suzuki GW250 Inazuma has a look that reminds me of Johnny Cash's song "One Piece at a Time" – as if the bike were made from bits they had lying around the factory. Its 250cc engine is equally unlikely to inspire envy in a great many people.
Nonetheless, this, amigos, is the bike I presently have my heart set on. This is the bike I would like to be my first. A commuter bike to its core, I imagine it to be the ideal machine on which to gain full confidence before moving up to something sexier and more powerful.
The riding style is upright, which appeals most to me. Sport bikes just aren't my thing and I can't imagine being able to physically tolerate being bent forward for long stretches of time. Well, I could tolerate it – I'm not that old – but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't enjoy it.
The Inazuma's 250cc…

Solidifying

It's happening. A few days ago, I signed up to do a CBT course. For those of you playing along at home, CBT stands for Compulsory Basic Training (the British love acronyms), and it is the first step in the very long process of becoming a fully licensed motorcyclist in the UK.
Next Saturday I'll be in the northern fringes of Cardiff at 8 a.m. for a full day of learning stuff and riding around cones. At the end of it, if I've managed to do it all to an accepted standard, I'll get a wee piece of paper (1) that says I can ride a 125cc motorcycle – under certain conditions – for two years. At least, this is my understanding of the situation.
The aforementioned certain conditions are that I will be restricted to a 125cc motorcycle, I will not be allowed to ride on the motorway (who would want to on a 125?), I will not be allowed to carry a passenger, and I will have to display L plates (plastic signs on the front and back of the motorcycle with a large letter L, for "…

What I want: Hyosung GV250

One of the things you'll see from British motorcyclists on various internet forums is the belief that no one would or should want a 250cc bike. The space between a learner-level 125 and a 500 is no man's land, they claim. But they claim all kinds of things, which is the modus operandi of internet forums, I suppose.
A fair few manufacturers offer 250s in the UK. Honda has the CBR, Kawasaki has the Ninja (actually a 300, but close enough), Suzuki has the Inazuma, and KTM has the Duke. Meanwhile, Yamaha may bring the YZF-R250 to the UK and there is talk of Suzuki reviving its Hustler name for something in the 200-300 range, as well as introducing the Z250.
On top of this, you have 250s (or close) from lesser-known manufacturers like AJS (who offer several 350s: the Stellar, the EOS and SPT), Daelim (who offer the unexciting VJF) and Hyosung, who offer the GV250, the GT250 and the GT250R. No doubt, there are one or two others I failed to mention (1). 
With so many bikes of this s…

What I want(ed): Yamaha YBR125 Custom

Not long into the motorcycle-obsession journey a person starts mentally cataloging which bike he or she wants. No doubt I'm quite common in this: when I run through those daydreams I find myself with a list of motorcycles. Indeed, part of the fun is constantly rearranging a particular bike's place on that list.
I like organising things. Yeah, ladies: I know how to party.
You get what I mean. In the throes of motorcycle excitement you're not going to set your mind on just one bike. Especially if, like me, you're keen to take a staggered approach to motorcycling proficiency. Like a high school kid rating girls (1), I have my eye on machines of all sizes and styles. One of the first bikes to catch my fancy was a Yamaha YBR125 Custom.

I'm a practical fella. I didn't always used to be. But one day, in my late 20s, I found myself driving the speed limit and realising that an honest assessment of limitations can actually help me accomplish goals. As such, I'm hon…

Crazy things I do: Quit drinking

My financial woes are an inherent (and endemic) part of this whole motorcycle journey. Lack of money is greatest of my frustrations because it is so difficult to resolve. Unlike other life obstacles, money cannot be cajoled into being.
That's a view that no doubt reflects a certain amount of arrogance: I have a tendency to feel I can will things into being. With ego and bull-headedness, I feel, I can get my way. I really do believe that most things are achievable if you're willing to keep banging your head against the wall, and able to keep hold in that concussed mind a focus and desire to eventually break through.

It's a very American mindset, I suppose, and one I don't see as often from people here. In Wales – the UK region in which I live – nothing has happened entrepreneurially or culturally since the late 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher shut down coal mines. People here got knocked down; they still have not picked themselves up because they lack self-belief.
I'…

Slow and steady

I'm part of a demographic, apparently. I suppose that's always true Рone is always a member of some demographic or another. But there's a tiny sense of disappointment upon learning such a thing, learning I'm not the only one, and, in fact, there are quite a lot of people like me. I'm not unique; I'm clich̩ enough to be quantifiable.
In this particular case, the demographic of which I am a member is: dudes aged 36 and older who are keen to get back into riding motorcycles. I was reading an article about my type the other day, which said we are prone to get ourselves all worked up then go out, get a massive bike we can't control and shortly thereafter kill ourselves in a collision with something large and unforgiving (e.g. a tree, a mountain, linebacker Ray Lewis, etc.). I am a part of the demographic that produces Boss Hoss owners and people who wear Harley-Davidson socks. I hate my demographic.

I am very pleased to say, then, that in all my daydreams abou…

You, sir, look ridiculous

I'm green. I have no shame in admitting that. Everyone has to be green at some point, and right now is that point for me. And in as much, I recognise that I don't really have much a leg to stand on when it comes to assessing other people's choices of bike, i.e. the type of bike they choose to spend their money on.
At the moment, I personally lean more toward the look and attitude of cruisers. When I picture myself riding, I don't pine to be hitting curves at bum-clenching speed. The idea of calmly exploring open space is far more appealing to me. I don't see motorcycling as a sport but a way of being free, and of getting to where I want to go. And to that end, I frequently find myself considering practical bikes such as Honda's NC700X or a Suzuki Inazuma. At the right price, I'd consider any number of other bikes regardless of their look or the inferred personality that comes with owning one.

My point is: I'm not the sort of person to criticise what bi…

Crazy things I do: Measuring the door

A few years ago I saw a short film produced for U.S. soldiers stationed in Britain during World War II. The short was a light-hearted look at the British "teammates" (the film used the analogy of a football team to describe Allied forces) and life on this island of rain. In it, Britons were described as "living in a sardine can" due to their affinity for building living spaces closely packed together. 
In 1940, the UK population was about 48 million. Now, it is just shy of 63 million. That's roughly double the population of Canada squeezed into a space smaller than Oregon. This is a cosy island, y'all. And what that means in practical terms is that far fewer of us have a garage or driveway in which to park a motor vehicle. This is especially true in the cities and – as in my case – areas that were built up before WWII. I live in a house built in 1895; no one was really worrying about where to put their car or motorcycle back then.
As such, the vast majorit…

Love for Cleveland CycleWerks

If I were still in the United States and in the position I'm in now of wanting to get back into motorcycling*, I think one of the bikes - if not the bike - I'd have my eye on at the moment would be a Misfit from Cleveland CycleWerks. OK, technically the bike's name is Tha Misfit, but that's just silly. Who's going to say: "I ride a Tha Misfit."? The word "misfit" is questionable enough, as far as I'm concerned. It brings to mind thoughts of Spike from Degrassi Junior High.
But just because I don't like the name doesn't mean I don't want one. I really like the look of the bike and I love the philosophy behind it. The other day I watched this piece about CCW and felt kind of inspired by what Scott Colosimo and his company are trying to do, which is provide cool, affordable motorcycles. That's something no one else seems to be willing to try in the United States - a fact that was part of the reason I never bought a bike when I …

They call me Lane Splitter: Why filtering is a good thing, except (maybe) in the United States

I'm pretty green to the motorcycling community, the internet face of it especially. But what I'm quickly learning is that, like every community, it has its own set of mores and accepted truths. And it has its own issues that get members of the community yelling over one another, proving that old theory that the less important something is the more passionately and personally it will be argued. One of the most contentious of those issues, it seems, is lane splitting – or, as it is known in the United Kingdom: "filtering."
It is also sometimes referred to as "lane sharing" or "white lining." By whatever name you choose, it is, of course, the act of driving one's motorcycle between two cars. There are any number of internet discussions on its merit, or lack thereof; some people have even set up blogs solely dedicated to discussing this one aspect of motorcycling. The arguments get very heated very quickly and it usually doesn't take much mor…

The fantasy scenario

I can't remember when the open road first gripped me. In high school I used to take long drives in my beat-up old Ford F250. I'd open a map of the state, point to a random spot and drive there. 
I remember once spotting that Young America is in Minnesota, the place to which I had, as a child, sent off countless proofs of purchase and hard-earned allowance money for the various things offered on the backs of cereal boxes. I jumped in my pickup and sped there full of excitement. I'm not really sure what I was expecting to find, but whatever I was imagining wasn't there. Young America was home to a General Mills factory and a whole lot of flatness.
I fell more in love with travelling the United States after reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac. When I was 19, my girlfriend and I read it as we drove from upstate New York to Minnesota. I took any number of long journeys thereafter – North Dakota to Massachusetts, Minnesota to Texas, Minnesota to Wyoming, Minnesota to Nevada…