“What does it matter where my body happens to be?” the Knight said. “My mind goes on working all the same.”
– Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There”
Like the White Knight, I like to tinker with things, especially with the motorcycles. And, like the Knight, I’ve found myself thinking of the bike throughout the day.
We’re preparing for this year’s ride, a sojourn through New England and into Nova Scotia. Like last year on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linda will be on her 300cc Vespa and I’ll be riding Terra Nova, my Yamaha Super Tenere. The Vespa is getting an extensive tune-up at Scoot Richmond and I’ve been working on the Yamaha.
The preparation has been a drawn-out exercise for me, with plans and ideas fitted together over the course of days. Much of it has been thought up in idle minutes, staring out at the bike in the morning, daydreaming while driving up to Cleveland to see my family, or snatching a few minutes of computer time at work for a motorcycling website.
I’m using this year’s ride as an excuse to add a few extras, including engine guards, which are tubes of steel that protect the sides of the motorcycle in case of a fall. (Call them crash bars if you want people to think you live dangerously.)
There’s also a bash plate that shields the bottom of the engine, a set of HyperLights that blink bright and furious when you apply the brakes (to wake up texting motorists behind you) and a power outlet (sort of a cigarette-lighter socket you commonly find inside cars). This lets you hook up heated vests and other gear and allows you to easily charge the bike battery.
Linda’s Vespa has a 2-gallon gas tank, which cuts down our refueling stops to roughly every 100 miles. That’s not a big deal for us, since it sort of slows down the ride and makes it more of an observational thing, rather than just rushing down the road as I normally do.
So I’ve been thinking about innovative ways to carry extra fuel. Last year, I used six MSR quart-sized aluminum fuel bottles in a pair of Aerostich panniers slung over Terra Nova’s gas tank, along with a 1-gallon plastic Kolpin gas cell in a sidecase. We used the extra stuff only once, but it was good to know it was there.
I ended up buying two 2-liter containers and brackets from Touratech and mounting them to the back of the sidecases. They’ll carry about one gallon. They seem to work pretty well and they look good.
But I’ve been daydreaming about the Yamaha’s luggage rack, a flat aluminum plate attached to the rear of the bike, behind the passenger seat. It’s a problem because the Super Tenere was introduced in 2010 and its after-market support is still kinda thin.
I got one and modified it by notching out two corners with a hacksaw. I used a Dremel grinder to smooth out the edges, spray-painted them black, drilled four holes and mounted the plate to the Yamaha’s tail. It seems strong enough and I may be able to add a couple of plastic tubes for additional MSR bottles.
Most of this was done over a span of weeks; I would, say, pick up a bracket and position it on the bike and think how it would work in conjunction with the rest of the machine. And even after I put down the bracket, I would think of it later even when I wasn’t beside the bike.
It’s taking little mental sidesteps, as Alain de Botton – who’s surely familiar with the White Knight – says in The Art of Travel: “Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks.” You step away from the problem in order to solve it.
I won’t know until journey’s end if Terra Nova performs as expected or if I’m making some spectacular goofs that screw up everything. The road is the final arbiter. But it’s a strangely pleasant process to make your very own modifications, to think them through and fabricate them yourself. To let your mind go on working all the same.