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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Where did all the standards go?

There was a time when you were able to go to a bike shop and see a few specific purpose bikes but most where good all around, do all bikes. We called them Standards. These days there are sport bikes, super-sport bikes, touring, sport touring, cruisers, dual-sport, Adventure, and more that I’m sure I missed. I can’t hardly find a standard bike anymore.

There are a few manufacturers out there still making standards but these bikes really have become the exception and not the norm. I’ve seen this lack of options push new riders into a “rider group” right from the start. That can really have a huge impact on their enjoyment of riding or sticking with riding. Think about it, if you are new to riding and what a comfortable, inexpensive, moderately powered bike that won’t either bore you in 3 months or scare the pants off you, there just are not many available.

Trust me, if I had been able to choose a more standard bike when i started riding I might still have that bike.  As it is I bought a cruiser, then another one and another one. They were the closest thing that I could find to a do it all bike that was also easy to learn on and ride after only taking the MSF course. It wasn’t until I rode a Ninja 1000 for a few months that I understood what fun a standard could be. Not that a Ninja 1k is a standard, it is not. But imagine if that engine were put into a bike with a flat comfortable seat, neutral siting position and some storage. That would be one hell of an around town, light duty touring bike.

Unfortunately, it seems that bike makers are focused on pushing a category to it’s outermost limits and not on making usable, everyday bikes that are good on gas but also fun to ride. I hope that Kawasaki rethinks bringing the W800 to the states. Honda has recently introduced the NC700 and NC700X. These fit the bill or me, but I think there’s a lot more that the bike makers can and should do to introduce more reasonable priced, 650cc – 800cc bikes with decent storage. Either that or we need to really start looking at the URAL’s  a little harder.

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Motorcycling

 

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Can You Be A Nerd And Ride A Motorcycle?

Camping Ride in new Bilt GearI believe when most people call up the image of a nerd in their head it looks like the stereotypical Revenge of the Nerds poster boy: glasses, short sleeve white button down shirt, high-water dress pants, pens in the shirt pocket, etc. However, I have rarely met this mythical nerd and I’ve worked in internet technology for close to 20 years now. I’ve known from a young age what nerdy things are and who nerdy people are, even if I wasn’t consciously aware of it. Then I discovered the The Nerdist and WheelNerds podcasts and now I finally have a definition for and example of something I have felt for a long time but couldn’t put into words. Chris Hardwick, the Nerdist podcast co-host and creator, wrote a book entitled The Nerdist Way in which he defines a nerd as a creatively obsessive person with the ability to fixate on one thing to a very minute level. Todd and Chuck from WheelNerds offer a real life example of Hardwick’s definition of a nerd as applied to motorcycles. This fixation is what separates the hobbyist from the truly dedicated enthusiast in any pursuit. It’s in this context that I can answer the question: Can you be a nerd and ride a motorcycle?

So why even ask this question? Because, just as there’s a stereotype out there of what a nerd is there’s also one of what a motorcycle rider is. According to a certain motorcycle manufacturer’s marketing department, and every motorcycle show on television, the image of a motorcycle rider is one of a leather wearing, bearded, outlaw rebel. I don’t think this characterization is any more accurate than the one of a nerd. Most motorcycle riders I know are just people with jobs, families, and all that goes with that. They don’t fit the “biker” image any more than the programmers and engineers I work with fit the nerd image. Are there those out there that do? Sure. Do they represent the majority? No.

According to the definition of a nerdist by Hardwick I think I, and many others, are motorcycle nerds. I’ve learned to embrace this idea, but it wasn’t easy. My last bike was a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide®. I know that it shouldn’t matter what I ride as long as I’m riding, but every time I walked into an H-D dealership I felt out of place. I didn’t see many guys on an H-D in textile riding pants, full armored yellow riding jacket, and a yellow full face Nolan helmet. It doesn’t fit the “image” of an H-D rider. I even got ribbed by the guys in my riding club, and they all wear the same gear I do! But they don’t ride Harley’s. I felt like I was fighting with the idea of what I was supposed to be because of the bike that I rode and knowing that it wasn’t me. This should not have bothered me, but it did. I can’t help that, it’s how I’m wired. Having been a nerdy kid I’ve worked hard, like so many other nerds, just to blend and fit in with the crowd. I’ve become acutely sensitive to the feeling of being out of place or in the “wrong” place, and my first reaction is to flee and find somewhere I can be among my tribe.

What changed was my becoming aware of others like me in the motorcycling world. Commuters, long distance riders, camping riders, ADV riders, all manner of motorcyclists who pursue riding like my nerdy child self obsessed over video games, D&D, and computers. Obsessive may be too strong a word (unless you’re talking about the Iron Butt riders) but the enthusiasm these riders have for their bikes, for riding, for gear and gadgets, is refreshing in a very comfortable and familiar way to me.

For example there are gear-heads who are all consumed by upkeep, maintenance, and modification of motorcycles, specifically their engines. I equate these folks with robotics and mechanical enthusiasts. They can tell you anything you want to know about a motorcycle engine from almost any aspect. Kevin Cameron, a columnist for Cycle World magazine is an archetype for the mechanical motorcycle nerd. He writes about subjects that regularly require explanations of metallurgy, viscosity, structural integrity, and complex mechanical interactions. I admire his ability to textually illustrate intricate concepts that most people could only do with parts diagrams and pictures, yet I always feel like I understand what he’s written as if I’d seen it with my own eyes instead of just reading about it.

Also there are the gadget hounds in the motorcycle world. These folks are the closest to computer nerds in my opinion. Probably because most of them are computer nerds and the motorcycle is simply an extension of their love of technology. These are guys who put every gadget imaginable on their bikes: GPS, radar detectors, satellite radio, MP3 player, communications systems, etc. They also tend to buy bikes that are equipped from the factory with a lot of technology built in: tire pressure monitors, temperature gauge, fuel range, heated grips and/or seat, electronically adjustable suspension, the list goes on and on. I have a propensity to fall under the spell of putting many shiny things on my bike that have screens and tell me things, just like I do in life.

There are endless arguments that appeal to my nerd brain related to riding: chain vs. shaft vs. belt final drive, sport vs. cruiser vs. dual-sport, naked vs. fairing, textile vs. leather. The discussions are as varied and heated as any Mac vs. PC debate I’ve ever been a part of. In the true nerd fashion there are ardent supporters of all these topics who delve deep into the subjects innermost details. Conversations at motorcycles gatherings about the abrasion resistance relative to speed between leather and textile jackets or self lubricating o-ring chains are better than Kevlar belts are not uncommon. There are just so many aspects of riding a motorcycle that lend themselves to discussion and debate. It’s fascinating!

So, can you be a nerd and be a motorcyclist? I think that you can, and that I’m proud to be one. I hope that there are others out there who find out that motorcycling, like most things in life, can be molded to fit your life. It’s what you put into it and not what others tell you it is that’s important.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Motorcycling

 

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In Touch

Of my hobbies the one I enjoy, almost as much as motorcycling, is playing the guitar. I even garnered some regional success as as solo artist in the late 90’s. For me there are a number of parallels between playing the guitar and motorcycling. It’s a subject I think about quite often while I’m riding. Both the guitar and bike connect me, in a very physical way, to what I’m doing. The guitar is one of the few instruments where music is produced by touching the parts of the instrument that produce the music. Similarly, in the operation of a motorcycle the rider is in direct control of the bike. There are exceptions to this, as there are to most things, but I tend to focus on the similarities.

The best way I’ve found to become a proficient guitarist or motorcycle rider is to practice. There’s no substitute for it. Sure, there are books and classes that teach the basics. One may even learn enough to play a few songs or operate a bike from these tools. In my experience It takes more to realize the full potential of either. Once the basics have been learned, continuing education, practice, and application are needed to move to the next level. This is an aspect of both playing and riding that appeals to me. No matter how many times I play or ride I’m always learning and (hopefully) getting better. It’s a progression and not a destination, so for me it never gets old. Admittedly there are times when I hit plateaus. In these instances I realize that I’ve learned as much as I can on my own and need to turn to friends who also play or ride (or both). Playing guitar or riding with others is the most pleasurable way to pick up new ideas and techniques to help move past my roadblocks and revitalize my learning process. It’s astonishing what just one session or ride with others can teach me about my own skills and how to improve them.

Steering a motorcycle is akin to playing cords or notes on a guitar. It is a direct input into the direction the music or the bike is going to go. Like a guitars fret board, there is nothing between the rider and control of the bike except the handlebars. Even in the most sophisticated bikes steering is a completely manual process. It is a direct conduit to where the rider wants the motorcycle to go. Steering, like playing, also takes the most practice. Figuring out cords, notes and scales takes time and a bit of finesse as dose learning the mechanics of taking a bike into a corner on the right line and back out to setup for the next turn on a curvy road.

What pulls all the notes and cords together to make a song is rhythm. Playing notes and cords is great, but it’s not really a song until those elements are combined with a rhythm. On a bike the rhythm is set through shifting and throttle control. These combine to create a pace, fast or slow, for a ride. In the right combination they create an undulating flow of highs and lows as the bike runs up and down the gears and the speedometer swings left to right. In the wrong combination, just like a song, they create a jerky staccato of missed shifts and revving engine noise that’s just as painful to the hear.

Listening, both in playing and riding, is essential to working out where corrections need to be made. This is the hardest part in both playing and riding. Once the basics are there it’s time for practice and fine tuning. Listening to a bikes engine can lead to better shifting, an alert to a problem, and keep the rider better in tune with the bike. Just like a guitar, when the notes are wrong adjustments need to be made. A finger placement can bend a note out of tune just as an incorrect throttle input can put a rider into a corner too fast or slow. Bad cord changes can slow down a song and make it jerky just as bad shifting can interrupt the flow of a ride. Listening and learning for what the proper sounds a bike or guitar are supposed to make can lead to better playing and riding.

A small note about playing and riding. All the education and practice in the world may not transform a person into Eric Clapton or Casey Stoner. Natural aptitude for either endeavor will be a limiting factor insomuch as there will be a ceiling to what can be accomplished. For the guitar, this just means that not everyone who plays will be a famous artists. However, in riding this is more serious. Bombing in front of a open mic or friends when you’re not ready to play out can be embarrassing. Riding beyond ones abilities on the road can be life threatening. It’s exceedingly important to understand your limits. Pushing those limits to become a better rider is OK, with the appropriate education and guidance, but exceeding those limitations may end in disaster.

As with all things that are rewarding, work and perseverance are necessary. My favorite hobbies keep me challenged but are also immensely satisfying. When I head out on a ride or pick up my guitar I am not only practicing but I’m having fun doing it. Really that’s the best goal.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Motorcycling

 

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