Fall Leaves

November 2nd, 2014 by OTB

The recent visit here from my friend Steve, coupled with a recent milestone birthday brought tons of riding memories flooding back.  At my age birthdays are more than just another reason to eat cake; they are a time to sit back and reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. Reconnecting with friends, especially simpatico riding buddies, triggers strong fond riding memories.

It’s not like anything is happening….I’m just marking another year passing. Yet, I’m at that point in life where I wake up one day and realize that life isn’t forever, that one day the sands run out and there won’t be a tomorrow. And that gets me to thinking; how have I done, what do I regret, what’s on my bucket list and what do I wish I have “do-overs” for.

There are a number of motorcycle trips I’d like to do: another cross country coast-to-coast run; a circumnavigation of the 48 states, some track time on a very small, agile bike. But, more than any trips, I guess I’d like to give folks who are just starting to ride, or who think they might like to ride; a look into some of the wonderful experiences I’ve had in a long and varied riding career.

Riding today is a very sophisticated undertaking; heated gear, video cameras, GPS, traction control, selective engine mapping, luggage “systems”, on the fly adjustable active suspension, and a dizzying choice of tires and gear all focused towards a particular niche or style or demographic in riding…wow!

Yet, when all is said and done, for me at least, what I remember most about the “best” rides of my life aren’t the seamless passage of miles. Nope. What I remember most about the “best” rides isn’t scenery; it’s the people I’ve met, the shared difficulties overcome, the unexpected challenges met and mastered….and sometimes, the misery endured and conquered.

It sounds weird, I know. But life today, here, is pretty sanitized for me, and for most people I know, too. Riding is pretty sanitized, too. All those sophisticated modern amenities tend to blunt the effects of nature, increase reliability of our rides, smooth out the vagaries of bad roads and ham-fistedness in riding.

I stopped riding with a group a few years ago not because of anything they had done or how they rode, but WHERE they road. They liked hitting pretty much the same route weekend after weekend, beautiful roads with pretty much GREAT surface, honing their skills and playing on familiar turf. Nothing wrong with that. Practice makes, if not perfect, then better.


The rides I remember with perverse fondness are the ones that at some point, turned to crap. You know; shit-hit-the-fan stuff. From a flat tire on a holiday weekend in the middle of nowheresville, to an unexpected cold front dropping ice and snow when I HAD to be somewhere the next day, to blasting along “over the ton”, making great time when the tank ran dry…..always in the middle of nowhere. I remember the sense of satisfaction getting the flat fixed after 3 tries with the last patch I had, the cup of hot coffee warming my freezing fingers when I stopped finally after making it through the arctic front or the kind farmer that drained the tank of his mower tractor to get me enough gas to get me down the road to a station.

And the other memories; the new riding friend showing me great roads in a new area while we skated front tires along through the wet leaves…and the strong smells of fall that day, the woodsmoke in the air, the sunlight streaming in glorious reds and yellows through the overhanging trees.

Riding early in the morning through the hills of West-By-God Virginia with inversions of fog and woodsmoke like layers over the roads, diving up and down through them like fighter pilots in the clouds…..

You REALLY need to come out and play….








Working With Others

September 2nd, 2014 by OTB

I consider myself a “permanent student” in the realm of riding. I learn new stuff all the time; I learn it from skilled old timers, and I learn from the newest riders. Riding behind a really skilled rider, I get to watch how he (or she) links turns together; how they chose a line, where they slow for the entry, where they pick the bike back up, where they exit.

I was being followed by a newer rider on the trip this weekend. At every stop, he would ask me questions; from why I mounted the bike the way I do (old busted back and pelvis, arthritis in my knees), to why I did what I did in that sharp corner way on back ( I miffed a downshift, then over compensated and spun up the rear tire!).  He also told me what he struggled with and I gave him a few suggestions on what I do when posed with that problem.

Working with a newer rider makes me THINK about what I do; examine things that I do automatically and take for granted.  By the same token, working with someone newer than me makes me examine my habits, good and bad.  Do I do what I do to compensate for some other skill I’m lacking but too lazy or too afraid to acquire? Have I just gotten old and sloppy?  Or, is there an actual reason WHY I do the things I do?

If you want to keep growing as a rider, Pass It On…..



First Long Trip of the Season

September 2nd, 2014 by OTB

I got invited to join a group of riders headed up to north central Pennsylvania over the Labor Day weekend. We rode close to 800 miles over two days, which isn’t much on the freeway, but is packing full days over twisty-turnies with older guys with older prostates. We had more bathroom stops than fuel stops……….

Anyway…what a hoot! Jim Ford, the principle for Riders Workshop (www.ridersworkshop.com) lead the other three of us through one of his old routes from Thurmont, MD all the way up to Wellsboro, PA. We never once put wheel to multi-lane highway; we took the road less traveled.

About half the roads were scenic two-lane through one state or national forest after another; the “side roads” we went on that connected these were “no centerline”  lane and a half type roads through farming areas and near-wilderness. The occasional fresh “leavings” from Amish horse-drawn carriages kept you alert. Nothing like putting a wheel in some fresh horse poo to keep things exciting!

It was one of those rides where after two hours of non-stop turns you started hoping for the fuel light to come on so you could signal a stop without looking like a wuss. Of course, Jim had a GS1200 with a 7.5 gallon tank and he was the type of rider to not stop until he drained it….

By the way; should you ever get it in your mind that GS1200’s are all ridden by stodgy old farts; beware! The pace we settled into after the first couple of hours had me spinning the R6’s motor in the nether regions to keep up.  Some guys squirt for corner to corner and then tiptoe around. Not Jim. No siree!

He’s one of those ultra-smooth riders who can ride for many miles of twisties and never touch the brakes. Just mile after mile of deceptively easy speed. We rode the first 150 miles the next morning in heavy rain; except for one spot where it was coming down so hard visibility became an issue, the pace didn’t vary from the previous day. Whew!. Quite an education!

I’ve never feared rain riding, but I’ve never had to EMBRACE it the way I had to that day. Talk about trusting your tires! As an aside; you also have to trust your gut. After about a hour of this pace, I started getting that unspoken “uneasy” feeling. Nothing definite, just a general feeling that something was a smidge off. Something that made me a little wary when pitching into rain-drenched turn after turn. Then, on a tight down hill reverse camber left hander, I felt the front start to wash out. The front started to slide and I stood the bike up while shifting my weight to the inside. I didn’t go down but it was a near thing. My front tire had started cupping before the trip, so I thought perhaps things were more worn that I had thought.

I had checked front a rear pressures on my morning pre-flight, so I was comfortable with that, and chalked it up to my own clumsiness but backed off the pace. two miles down the road on another downhill turn, I felt the same thing start to happen, but at a lower pace and knew something was “off” with the bike. When I pulled into a gas station in the next town, I thought I’d fill up and then have a good look at the bike. As I did a walk around, I checked the tires and, sure ’nuff, there was a drywall screw head sticking out of the front tire, with water bubbles blowing out. When I checked the pressure, I was down to 12 PSI. Another couple of miles and I’d have been on my arse.

Five minutes with my tire kit, some more air and I was back to dumb, fat and happy.

Trust your tires, but trust your gut more.




WOW…Long Time No Posties

September 2nd, 2014 by OTB

Somehow the summer just got away from me; long work hours, very few days off, and almost all the riding has been work-related.

I am fortunate enough to be able to use the two wheels to get out to long distance clients as long as i know what I have to service. I have a few hundred pounds of tools and supplies I need to carry in the Sprinter, but most basic issues can be reolved with what I can carry in soft bags and a duffle; IF I know exactly what I need to repair. So, I’ve done a lot of freeway/main road droning this summer.

It’s not ideal, but it beats sitting in a truck all day.


I finally have a little time, so I’ll post a bit more.


New Season

March 24th, 2014 by OTB
I’ve been riding every chance weather allows lately, taking service calls on the bike. This weekend went out towards Harpers Ferry, north towards Frederick and then up towards PA and across towards York and back down, all secondary roads.

I’ll say this right now. THE ROADS ARE NOT OK. This winter’s heavy accumulation of snow, salt and constant freeze/thaw cycles have taken their toll. I’m not even talking about the massive pothole problems on the heavily trafficed areas. I’m seeing lots of crumbling shoulders, frost heaves, MANY, MANY seeps (areas of checking pavement with water pushing up through) as well as lots of branches/broken tree debris everywhere there are overhanging trees.
One of my friends back in the twin cities sent me this link:
Motorcyclist going 100 mph hits pothole on I-394, thrown to his death | Star Tribune

….and it hasn’t been above zero yet only a couple of days.

Not only that, but maintanance crews were out fixing roads and utilities both Saturday and Sunday…..flag crews and traffic backups on seldom-used roads I used to tear up……..

I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Easy Does It”; we have the whole riding season ahead of us; lets not start it with funeral rides and fundraisers for unfortunate families; OK? There’s too many of you I haven’t met yet….

Riding in a no-helmet state

November 28th, 2013 by Fitz

So, I’ve arrived in Texas for the new job, and I’m mostly settled in. Texas, as some of you may know, is a state lacking a helmet law.

Although I’ve been busy getting set up at work, making arrangements for utilities, taking care of my rental property listing and whatnot, I have had a few opportunities to ride, and I’ve noticed a few things. The first is that, despite the no-helmet law, I still see quite a few of the “fake” skullcap helmets with DOT stickers; the kind that would split in two upon any substantial impact. I wonder, given the lack of a helmet requirement, why even bother at that point? If you’re not going to wear a helmet that will provide protection to your noggin (At the very least, a DOT approved half-helmet), then why wear one at all? Is there an image associated with a fake helmet that has so far eluded me?

The other thing I’ve experienced, twice now, is some odd “advice” from other folks. People noticed my out-of-state plates, and perhaps in an effort to strike up conversation, said “You know, you don’t have to wear that thing here.”

Is riding helmetless really that common in states that don’t require it?



Home Made Rear ABS

September 25th, 2013 by OTB


A little tip, for those of you afraid of locking the rear brake.

I put myself on my ass back in ’74 when I thought I was in a car and mashed the rear brake only when trying to avoid a drunk driver.  The rear of the bike started to slide, I panicked and let up (I was traveling about 70 when this started) and the bike snapped straight up;  down I went in a classic highside, face first). After that little FUBAR move, I learned to adjust my rear brake pedal down an inch or so,  so that I HAD to actively rotate my leg and ankle forward to get the rear to lock.

I also went back to the parking lot and started training myself out of the reflexive car moves; I spent a lot of time learning to front brake to get the tire just to start to howl. When I did that, I started to work in a little rear brake, too, to even shorten my stopping distances more. I also learned to keep my index finger draped over the front brake lever, shortening my reaction times.

I could still use the rear for gentle braking, but I had to make a conscious effort to REALLY get on the rear brake.

That was also the impetus to spend an afternoon tailoring the bikes controls for me; getting  handlebars,  brake and clutch levers lined up for MY comfort, taking out the excessive slack in the throttle, making the bike fit ME, rather than me adapt to the bike. I have heard of others suggesting adding a stronger rear brake return spring; I would think that would also work if you don’t have any pedal adjustment, but I watch out for losing even more “feel”, which could cause a bigger problem than you had to start with.

Just some stuff to think  about.

Braking Bad

September 21st, 2013 by OTB

“Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” —Anonymous Pilot

You see frequent posts; “Should I use the rear brake?” and then the OP gets four pages of conflicting advice, depending on whether the respondent is a new guy, and old tourer, a track day addict, aspiring racer or cruiser aficionado.

Some say they NEVER use the rear brake, some say it’s for experts only and even more say they use it “once in a while”. A lot of racers say the only time the rear brake gets used on their bike is at tech inspection.

Funny thing, when I started riding, the Second Great Word of Wisdom From Seasoned Riders was “Don’t use the front brake; it’ll throw you over the handlebars.”  Of course, the First Great Word of Wisdom back then was “If you get into trouble or can’t stop, you gotta lay ‘er, down”. So you kinda get get the idea of the level of sophisticated rider training there was back then.

SO who is right? What is (or isn’t) the proper use or place of the rear brake?

The answer is very unsatisfying for most. It is; It Depends.

It depends on what?

It depends on just about EVERYTHING; the type of bike, the rider, whether or not you have a passenger, the surface you’re riding on, the condition of your tires, yada, yada, yada….

Like I said; not very satisfying, eh?

For the roadracer; he may never touch his rear brake or he may use it to settle the chassis on a slow corner entrance. The dirt racer, on the other hand, may use it all the time. The milers and speedway bikes don’t even have a front brake.

On the street, a lot of the effectiveness of the rear brake has A LOT to do with the design of the bike. Long wheelbase, long rake and trail geometry bikes like cruisers and touring bikes can make effective use of the rear brake as a result of more rearward weight distribution during braking. Bikes with a short wheelbase, steep rake angles and short trail may feel unstable or prone to locking the rear brake during heavy braking.

I read a recent discussion about how what percentage of braking is front vs rear. One said x%, one said y%.

The picture below on the previous post kinda says it all; the front of the race bike is fully compressed, the rear suspension completely extended and the tire is scant inches off the ground!  In that case, at that moment, no weight was on the rear tire, therefore it contributed 0% to braking. Nothing. Nada.

So, then, what is the role of the rear brake?

The answer is, it’s whatever role is proper for you in your immediate circumstances to get you home safely and in one piece.

When teaching the rear brake, I usually start out newer riders with the concept of “finish braking” and slower (walking pace) speeds. Easing off the front bake and on the rear brake as you come to a stop. It keeps the fork from compressing so much and causing low speed tipovers when coming to a stop if the bars aren’t exactly centered. I then work in a little rear brake as one eases away from a stop if a rider is having throttle control issues.

I encourage riders to experiment with the rear brake, especially at the entrances to turns where an EASY dab at the rear can settle the suspension and make for a smoother turn in.

After that, it’s up to the rider on a given bike to see how much rear is appropriate; that comes with seat time and parking lot practice so when the time comes, and it will,  the real emergency response will be smooth, balanced and effective and one the rider can walk away from.






That’s the Brakes

September 18th, 2013 by OTB

Face it; no matter how manufacturers fiddle with motorcycle chassis, no matter how they strengthen with ladder frames, vacuum-cast, carbon-fibered, computer-designed and track-tested; motorcycles today are still motors with two wheels and a hinge in the middle. And as long as we stick to that design, bikes will have fork braces and friction or radial or piston-type “steering dampers” to keep the hinge from doing strange things at high speeds and with high side loads.

And as long as wee stick to that design, we’re going to get dumped in  parking lots at a walking  pace whenever we grab a handful of front brake with the handlebars slightly turned. Unless they change the laws of physics.

Manufacturers and designers have tried work-arounds for that problem; Earles-type forks; essentially the rear swingarm suspension  turned 180 degrees  made for better ride and compliance, as well as anti-dive, but they still used the “steering-head” hinge-in-the-middle approach, plus the systems were heavy and cumbersome. Girder type forks were another approach; same issues with less travel.

BMW  messed around with their “Telelever” suspension; essentially moving the damper system off the forks and onto the chassis to lessen  unsprung weight and be able to tune out “fork dive”; but it also has issues, including lack of feel and added weight; as well as the issue of “hinge still in the middle”.

Hossack, Britten, Tony Foal and James Parker (and others) have all farted around with “center hub” or “hub steering” designs. the Yamaha GTS used a Parker-designed system; the Bimota Tesi used a captured kingpin system with drag links (essentially an modified parallelogram system). All of these systems made major improvements in compliance, rigidity, road feel, braking control (low and high speed) and overall bump handling; upright or at lean.

Why then, are we still stuck with basic geometry on production bikes that’s remained unchanged pretty much since Gottlieb Daimler first bolted a gas engine to a wooden bicycle frame in 1885.

What’s all this historical-engineering gobbledygook have to do with brakes.

Nothing. And Everything.

Gotta go to work.

More to come.


The Mathematics of Survival

September 2nd, 2013 by OTB

I was following a group of riders a few weeks ago; as we peeled off the main road I heard the wail of four-cylinder high-performance motors ahead winging the way towards redline. The bikes ahead of me rocketed away; I downshifted and gassed it to follow.

The road was gently twisting but rose and fell so the turns’ apexes and exits were mostly hidden from view. At one point, I glanced down mid-exit to see the speedo climbing past 85 with another hilly turn with hidden crest and apex fast approaching. The group was fast leaving me behind. I could see about 1 seconds worth ahead of me.

At 85 miles per hour, I’m traveling at about 7480 feet per minute; that works out to about 125 feet per second. So, in about the time it took you to read that last sentence, I had traveled the length of a football field, plus two end zones, plus well into the stands. One, two, three. About one hundred twenty-five yards. Give or take.

Assuming it takes about a second to process an obstruction in ones path, and another half- second( I’m being REALLY optimistic here) to decide and initiate a course of action (swerve, brake, ect.) I’ve already traveled 200 feet before I’ve even started squeezing the brake lever or pushing on the inside bar to change course.

Assuming a bike in good condition with good rubber on a clean, dry surface, on my very best day smoking the front tire with the rear just barely skimming the ground, I should be able to come to a complete stop in around 240+ feet. (Testers results run about 220 for the R6 at 80-0).

So, assuming a three second “cushion” in the hills at that speed, if I come up over the crest of a hill and experience an obstruction, I should be able to just about slow enough to die slowly and in agony, rather than instantaneously.

Now, I realize that everybody, including me made it back OK, and that we usually do. The only way I’d have been in trouble was on the unlikely chance someone might have been in the wrong lane, or there was a deer, or an oil or antifreeze spill, or a truck losing part of a load, or a truck blowing a tire, or a bit of sand in mid-turn, or ….

Most of the time, nothing bad happens.

I had a guy tell me not too long ago that I didn’t have the stones for speed.

He was right; on the road, I never really have.

On the track, you have corner workers with signal flags, all the traffic is moving in the same direction, the track has usually been inspected and cleaned and whilst you may have to dodge the occasional bunny or confused doe, at least the Buicks aren’t cutting across your bow.

As it was, I dialed it back and let the group go; as the last tail light disappeared into the distance I crested a rise doing about half of my previous speed. There was a pickup parked crosswise in both lanes that had backed  out of a hidden driveway after the faster riders had passed and it had stalled, blocking both lanes, no shoulder and rocky ditches on both sides.

As it was, I rolled the throttle shut and touched the brakes a tad; he restarted the truck and was on his way, no drama for either of us.

Like I said, most of the time, nothing bad happens.