All posts by George Petras

And We’re Off to the Races

races.002

Finally got around to cracking open the Vespa’s headlight nacelle to install brackets for the scooter’s new windscreen. It’s another Italian engineering nightmare.

Linda accidentally dropped her bike and broke the Givi windscreen last year, just before we were due to leave for Thunder Bay.  I pulled the screen and she rode 3,300 miles without it, in sunshine and in rain.

For the upcoming New Orleans ride, I ordered her a new screen — a Genuine Vespa Part! — from ScooterWest in San Diego. Now all I have to do is install it.

races.003

Things went south quickly when I saw the Givi and Vespa mounting brackets were different.

Both use expanding sleeves that slip inside metal tubes in the Vespa’s headset. Once installed, the Givi brackets can be unbolted from the front with no fuss.

Ah, but the Genuine Vespa Part requires the headlight nacelle be taken apart every time the brackets need to be removed. Another Rube Goldberg triumph.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Back on Track

la.map.001

“Yeah, I’m hip about time. But I just gotta go.”

– Peter Fonda (as Wyatt), “Easy Rider”

After much procrastination, delay, and downright dithering, we’ve decided to forgo The Great River Road for now and head to New Orleans in September for this year’s motorcycle ride.

It’s never taken us this long to decide where the annual motorcycle ride will go and I can’t explain the delay. Time, age and work have been more of a distraction this year.

streetcar

We figure about 2,400 miles total, but we don’t have a real mission profile yet. There are some good possibilities, including Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway to Tennessee, then southwest to Mobile, Alabama, where we’ll pick up coastal roads to New Orleans.

Then maybe we’ll head northeast on the Natchez Trace, which we haven’t been on since 2002.

Linda’s been to New Orleans twice, the last time for an Investigative Reporters and Editors seminar last year, but I’ve never been there.

Closest I got was I-10 north of Lake Pontchartrain in 2000 in my uncle’s car during a madcap dash from San Diego to Flagler Beach, Florida, to my grandmother’s funeral. Not much joy then.

end

But I’ve always wondered what it would be like to arrive in New Orleans aboard a motorcycle. Perhaps that comes from reading too many Tennessee Williams plays, or being swept away by the romantic history of the French Quarter, or simply watching Easy Rider too many times. But at last, I’ll be there.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t end like Easy Rider.

Mission Logistics Is On It

grr-02

I’ve taken to dragging along a fistful of maps wherever I go, including our once-a-week date-night dinner. We’re planning the next motorcycle ride.

Though the maps may puzzle a waitress – “Are you guys going somewhere?” – and look odd next to the bread and chianti, it’s a chance to mellow out and just think ahead to where Linda and I want to go and how we’ll get there.

us-map

This year, we’re thinking about The Great River Road, a patchwork of scenic state roads that follow the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m a sucker for historic roads with names, but I hadn’t heard of this one until Ben Abramson, our Travel editor, mentioned it in a morning editorial meeting. Why am I not aware of this? I asked myself, and went to learn more.

It turns out The Great River Road is a 2,400-mile-long series of roads that runs through 10 states, from Minnesota to Louisiana. It’s been around since 1938. You can drive on either the western or eastern banks of the Mississippi.

app

It looks fascinating and sounds perfect for us. The only problem is getting there.

Logically, we’d like to travel the road north to south. The problem is getting out there: Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where the road begins, is about 1,300 miles from us. New Orleans, close to where it ends, is 1,100 miles away.

That means we’re traveling 2,400 miles just to get to and from the road. Add in the road and it’s 4,800 miles, more than we’ve ever done on two separate bikes. The most we’ve ever done on our separate bikes is 3,300 miles in 19 days.

cafe-italian

We’re considering options:

  • Taking more time and doing the whole thing on two bikes;
  • Doing it two-up on one bike, probably Endurance, my BMW GS (which would also give us the opportunity to revisit the Natchez Trace on the way home);
  • Renting a U-Haul or somesuch and transporting the bikes to and from the start/endpoints ourselves.

Mission Logistics is working on it and will report back when they reach consensus. That’s us, of course. And a few waitresses, probably.

Another Damn Battery

bmw2
Pulling the BMW battery. Cody is always willing to help.

Took the Yamaha out for a fresh tank of gas, put Sta-Bil in, got on Endurance, the BMW, to do the same thing, turned the key and … nothing.

Even the dash clock was blank. “All right,” I think to myself, “I’ll charge up the battery.”

stabill4oz

Once connected, the clock numbers reappeared but the charger stayed red, even after an hour, then started to get warm. So I pulled the unit out of the bike and tried to charge it again on the workbench. Same thing.

The BMW needs a new battery.

It’s my own fault – I’m just not riding it enough. I’ve taken Terra Nova, the Yamaha, for our last four long-distance rides and occasionally to work. The BMW is just sitting there, waiting.

I replaced Endurance’s battery back in May, I think, with a low-end Yuasa from the local dealer and thought it would be sufficient. And now, through cold weather and prolonged inactivity, it’s expired.

mortons

Like motorcycle tires, motorcycle batteries, the decent ones anyway, aren’t cheap. But you have to use them, otherwise the tires will crack and fail and the batteries will go dark.

So on our drive down to Myrtle Beach for comp-time vacation, we ended up stopping at Morton’s BMW in Fredericksburg where I bought an upper-range Odyssey. I’ll take it home and install it aboard the BMW with many apologies and a promise to take it out more this year.

First Ride of the Year

dscn2924

It’s short, but this: I pulled the Dowco cover off Terra Nova this afternoon and took the bike out for the most mundane of reasons, a ride to the post office. But it was the first ride of the season, maybe 6-7 miles.

dscn2923

Afterwards I filled the gas tank and added Sta-Bil. God knows what sort of weather is ahead.

Tomorrow I’ll do the same for Endurance and Linda’s scooters. I do miss riding.

Great Bike

at-rain

I review motorcycles every now and again for USA Today online and the 2016 Honda Africa Twin is probably the one I’ve enjoyed the most, to the point of considering buying one myself.

All the bikes I’ve tried were great – the Indian Dark Horse and Springfield were the best-looking and really fun to ride – but the Africa Twin appealed more to the type of riding I like to do. Or aspire to.

The Africa Twin is a venerable Honda model that was introduced in Europe. It won Paris-Dakar four times in the 1980s and was popular overseas but was never sold in the U.S. It was considered the quintessential motorcycle for long-distance, world-spanning travel. Honda stopped making it in 2003.

at-station2

Much like “the Olympics, the distant dream of anyone who has ever laced up a pair of track shoes,” (as sportswriter Jerry Izenberg wrote) I suppose most everyone who has a motorcycle dreams of riding around the world.

The AT, billed by Honda as a “go anywhere” bike, could do it. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much, it lived up to the hype and matched my dreams.

I took it out to West Virginia with Bob Hamilton, a riding buddy, and later up to Cleveland for my high school reunion. The rain photo was taken on I-66 eastbound when I realized I was still having a good time. Great bike.

The USAT review is here.

You Guys Ride Harleys?

17-hd-roadster-1-largex2

We’re talking by the coat rack when she passes us on the tile floor, barefoot with red-painted toenails, a sweater on one arm and a drink in her hand. She must have recognized our motorcycle references because she pauses and says, “Do you guys ride Harleys?”

It’s a wedding reception for good friends of ours, and Linda and I have escaped the loud music of the dining room/dance floor to talk with another couple who also ride. It’s better than having to shout.

We pause and exchange glances all around – is this a friend of yours? is the unasked question – and say no. I have a Yamaha and a BMW and the nice folks we’re talking to have a Suzuki and something else I can’t remember.

“Well, would you be interested in buying my husband’s Harley?” she asks, and waits expectantly, as though we catch left-field questions like this all the time.

17-hd-low-rider-9-largex2

“Your husband’s selling his Harley?” I say. “Why’s that?”

“He got it in some sort of mid-life crisis or something,” she says, and it comes out they have their own business and their kids are grown and gone.

“But he hasn’t ridden it in two years. It’s just been sitting in the garage. I think he should sell it.”

“Why doesn’t he ride it?” someone asks.

“He did, for a while,” she says. “He’d get up real early, while it was still dark sometimes, and go on these long rides. But now he doesn’t.

“And he doesn’t want to get rid of it. So it’s just sitting there.”

“Do you go riding with him?” Linda asks.

“I did, a few times,” the woman says, shifting her glass to her other hand. “But I really didn’t like it.”

“Well, I’ve seen some of those Harley passenger saddles,” Linda says. “Some of them look really uncomfortable.”

“Oh, it wasn’t that,” the woman says. “He got me a nice seat. But the rides were boring, and I’d rather be out in the garden or even reading a book or something.

“So it’s just sitting there.”

17-hd-heritage-softail-classic-11-largex2

I’m tempted to say that maybe her husband thought riding a motorcycle together would be adventuresome and he wanted to share that with her. I’m tempted to say no wonder he’s letting his Harley sit in the garage because she’s made clear her contempt for it. And I’m tempted to find her husband and say don’t give it up.

And though I marvel at her effrontery to practically sell his bike out from underneath him, I keep my own counsel. I don’t know the whole story, and I certainly don’t know this woman and her husband, and I’m not going anywhere near that minefield.

Motorcycles aren’t for everyone, I know. And even with effort from the pilot, riding as a passenger can be dull. We’ve talked about that here.

But even though I’m projecting, I can imagine him at the Harley dealership, looking for the perfect bike. I see him ordering the special saddle and bolting it to the rear fender and I can almost feel his anticipation at the wonderful rides ahead.

I can see that because I’ve done it myself. And maybe that’s why I find their story so sad, because it was so close to my own, which had a much better ending and didn’t, didn’t, thank God, wither away and collect dust in a garage.