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Showing posts from May, 2014

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…

Part III: Leaving John Muir's native land

If life were a TV series, this episode would probably, for the sake of dramatic license, start with me standing on a no-name country lane, somewhere off the A91 in Perthshire. Actually, I'm not standing, I'm jumping up and down in circles, waving my clenched fists in rage and screaming at the top of my lungs. 
I am angry at a whole host of things, not least of which the present moment –– in which I am suddenly unable to control my temper enough to safely ride a motorcycle. And I am subconsciously aware of just how ridiculous it must look to see a 38-year-old man throwing a tantrum in full riding gear and full face helmet at the side of the road. To that end, I have deliberately chosen this remote spot for this moment. But I am aware, too, that I need to sort myself out quickly because even on Scottish country lanes it is never so very long before a car comes along.
It is a little past 11:30 a.m. and this moment is a boiling point –– a culmination of annoyances that have been …

Part II: A ride to John Muir's native land

I spent a few days in the Lake District, my bike protected from the frequent rain by a heavy-duty cover I had bothered to strap to rack. I was up there for a conference, which somehow translated into walking up a mountain in the pissing cold rain and wind, followed by many pints of German lager. The second part I liked most, obviously, but in hindsight I enjoyed the first part, as well. It was one of the most fun work-related things I've ever been to. Next year's conference is in the Broads and I am already planning my route.
Back in the Lake District, a perfectly timed break in the rain meant I was able to strap all my gear to the bike in the dry. It started raining again right as I pressed the starter, as if the button were wired not only to the Honda's engine but the clouds. I settled into it and hoped my motorcycle gear would hold up better than my hiking gear. The day before, I had ascended Scafell Pike with a group and discovered that my rainproof hiking gear was ri…

Jay Leno's 1962 Norton 650SS and the value of pondering

I thought I'd share this video of Jay Leno talking about his 1962 Norton 650SS. I can't say I have any real love for Nortons, but I understand those who do love them, and he says a lot of things in here that I really agree with. A few things, even, that I have talked about before on this blog. He talks about the collapse of motorcycling in the UK, chalking up Britain's failures in terms of market dominance to arrogance. That makes sense, definitely; the same thing happened to U.S. manufacturers. But I still wonder how motorcycling's popularity fell into such steep decline over here.

Jay also talks about something that I thought a lot about recently on my trip to Scotland: that one of the true joys of motorcycling is the absence of rest-of-the-world white noise.

"(I've) never quite understand why people put radios and Bluetooth and MP3 players on their motorcycles, " he says. "This is the one time when you can... kind of be alone and enjoy the solitu…

A thousand-mile ride to John Muir's native land: Part I

I suppose the best thing to do is to split my adventure into four posts, commenting on the days I actually spent riding to and from Scotland, rather than talking too much about the space in between. This is a motorcycle-related blog, after all. 
Though, of course, it is usually the stuff in between that is most important. Motorcycles, as much as we may love them, as much as I may obsess over them, are essentially just vehicles -- hunks of dirty metal, rubber and plastic to get us to those places where life happens.
I suppose that's not entirely true. One of the real joys of motorcycling is that you experience so much more in getting from place to place. You feel the sun's warmth, taste the acrid pollution of Manchester/Liverpool, hear the rush of wind, smell the earthy damp of Scottish rain, and see it all with much less hindered view. 
And there is, too, the time to think. Riding roughly from the bottom to the top of Britain and back afforded me several hours of mobile solac…

Ride review: Victory Cross Country

A strange and interesting thing about the Victory Cross Country: it gave me the worst riding experience of my life, and yet the reason for that terrible experience is so easy to fix I am willing to overlook it and tell you that this is The One. This the motorcycle I need in my life.
Honestly, as soon as I got home after my Cross Country experience I set up a savings account and labelled it: "CROSS COUNTRY FUND." Goodness knows how long it will take me to save up for the £16,500 (US $27,725) American bagger, but the point is that's how great an effect the machine had on me.
So, let's start with that one bad thing: the little sliver of a stock screen is about an inch too short for someone who is 6-foot-1. Or, considering that I normally ride with my helmet in the wind, perhaps it is an inch too tall. 
To be honest, I don't fully understand the particulars of aerodynamics as pertain to screens, but the long and short of things is that the screen was wrong for me. I…

'2-Wheel Conveyances Embracing Alternative Fuel Sources' -- A guest post

The following is a guest post, provided to me by a digital PR company that is trying to sell you something in a clever way. As this blog has grown more popular (thank you!) I have found myself receiving an increasing number of offers of this sort: "Hey, Chris, we've got a great product that we think will really suit the interests of your readers" and so on. My standard reply to such offers is a polite "No thank you."

But in this particular case, I find the content of the article interesting -- alternative energy. Remember that not too long ago I wrote a post about electric motorcycles. And I'm a card-carrying member of the National Trust and the Sierra Club. Plus, as you read this I am still in Scotland and not really able to blog. (Expect several posts related to that trip when I return)

I am not being paid for posting the following content, nor am I receiving any goods/services in exchange. Genuinely, I just find it a bit interesting.


Ride review: Victory Jackpot

I'll admit right up front that I've never really liked the look or the idea of the Victory Jackpot. To me, it represents an outdated OCC-style of thinking: motorcycles as ridiculous trophy objects for people who are woefully uncultured.

Yes, I know I'm breaking the golden rule of this blog by criticising other people's riding choices but, you know, ugh. That fat-rear-tire-skinny-front-tire thing is just so... so... I can't quite explain what it is that annoys me so much. Basically, it's the equivalent of wearing a designer T-shirt to church. Just because it's expensive and flashy doesn't make it good.

Though, as it turns out, the Jackpot is a slightly better motorcycle than I had thought it would be. Sure, it's generally impractical, but at least it's a lot of fun. For a while.

Much of the reason for that, of course, is the fact that it's a Victory. And as such, it comes equipped with the stalwart and powerful Freedom 106 engine. The gears …

Test rides

Almost exactly five years ago, I set out on a Great American Road Trip that took me across both the width and length of the United States. That adventure lasted nigh 3 months and saw me travelling close to 20,000 miles. The amount of planning I did for that trip, however, was minimal. I rented a car from Avis, I told a few friends I might be around, and that was about it.

Tomorrow, I set off on my first true Great British Road Trip. It will last only 8 days and consist of just a little more than 1,000 miles of travel. Britain, after all, is a very small country. But in contrast to my U.S. road trip, for this adventure I have invested weeks of planning and fretting and downright panicking. The big difference, of course, is that it is also the longest road trip I will have ever taken on my bike.
I've done overnights to mid Wales and the English Midlands but this is something different. This journey will demand that I go further and that I carry more stuff. Both of which are aspects…

Ride review: Triumph Tiger Explorer XC

"Hold me closer, ugly dancer." That's the song I found myself singing to the almost-wonderful Triumph Tiger Explorer XC recently as I explored the famous roads of Peak District National Park. It is a bike that is so close to being exactly the sort of thing I want but falls horribly flat on just two points.
The first one is, admittedly, subjective. The Tiger Explorer XC is stupid ugly. It's a machine that looks to have been designed by the same bloke who produced the 2012 London Olympics logo. There are many good things to say about the bike but I'm afraid that no matter how I turn my head or squint my eyes, I cannot say it looks good. This is the girl in the bar who always goes home alone.
But the 1,215-cc three-cylinder machine has so many great qualities that it almost makes up for its looks. Almost. As Samuel L. Jackson says in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way. But still there is one other aspect of the Tiger Explorer XC's personality that is imp…

One year hence

Exactly one year ago today, I earned my UK motorcycle license. Traffic to this blog has increased considerably since then (thank you for reading), so some of you might not know the whole story leading up to that moment. In short, I had earned my U.S. motorcycle endorsement in a YMCA parking lot when I was 18, but thereafter done nothing with it. Years later, I became obsessed with the idea of getting a motorcycle to combat the interminable dreariness of British life.
That meant, however, I needed a UK motorcycle license. It's a separate license here, not just an addendum to your driver's license, and thanks to Europeans' love of circumlocutory bureaucracy getting it is much, much more difficult than it had been in Minnesota. Admittedly, the process here instilled in me considerably more riding knowledge than I had gleaned from doing circles on a CG125 and watching Wheels of Tragedy(a).But the unexpected challenge of completing that process was borderline traumatic. 
No, r…