Archive for April, 2006

Wet and…Wonderful!

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Weather: Rain, all day long.

Frogwing and I, in our element.
The Johnny Cash look, betrayed by reflectors!

Well, I suppose April had to get here sooner or later. Today it arrived in force. A low pressure system, full of juice from the Gulf of Mexico, blew up here out of Texas, and looks like it is going to hang around for a couple of days. Today, we are getting our April showers, all day long.

Most people I talk to are stoic about it. We’ve had our fun in the sun, for the past week or so. The grass needs this, and so does the water table. People want to start planting their gardens, and I’m sure the farmers are hoping for a bit of rain.

But most people who ride motorbikes don’t want any part of this. Riding in the rain takes gear and skills that most recreational riders don’t care to acquire. So they leave their bikes home on days like this, and drive the cage instead.

I only saw one other rider out there today, and he was riding a blue, full-fairing, BMW R-something. It was either a -90 or 100, I couldn’t tell. But I know that beemer guys pride themselves on riding in all weather. I wonder if the mysterious red KLR guy was out there this morning…?

I wouldn’t know, because I’ve been taking the freeway in the mornings. But if I had to guess, I’d bet he was.

Yes, that’s right; the hated freeway. Why? Because the ride to work has that element of time-pressure attached to it. I have to be at my desk by a certain time, which means that I can’t ramble the way I like to do on the way home.

On the scooters, it is different, because I know that the freeway isn’t really a safe place to ride. The scooter route is a reliable sixty-minute cruise on parkways and sidestreets, both ways. So I plan for an hour, plus another twenty minutes if I want to stop for coffee.

But Frogwing does the freeways just about as well as he does the parkways, and it only takes us thirty minutes to get to work. That means thirty more minutes I can spend, sitting in my jammies, analysing the weather, traffic, and news on TV… or thirty more minutes of blissful semi-sleep, occasionally peeking at the alarm clock, should I need it. That can be a real blessing, on some days.

Today was really special because of a package I received from Aerostich yesterday. I am testing the Darien pants that go with the jacket I wore all through the winter. The timing couldn’t have been better. I already know that the Darien jacket repels all of the snow and rain I have encountered while wearing it.

Now I know that the pants perform just as well. Riding through both light rain and downpours, the water just beaded on these pants, and I never felt a bit of moisture on my legs. I found the kneepad armor a wee-bit uncomfortable, because it is mounted a bit lower than I need it to be. But Aerostich will fix that, as soon as I can get the pants back to them. I plan to ride up to Duluth to visit Andy and the gang as soon as my work schedule permits.

Now, my ride home from work tonight was wonderful. Yes, it was raining. But the gear I was wearing made that a non-factor. Whenever my visor became obscured by raindrops, I used my Vee-Wipe to clear it, just like a windshield washer. The knobby tires on Frogwing are almost as good in wet conditions as they are on dry pavement. The Aerostich Darien suit kept me warm and dry. In short, I was a Happy Rider.

This bodes well for the weekend. The forecast for our area is rain, rain, and more rain… clear through Monday. But the magic of weather radar allows me to see where the rain is falling, and where the nearest dry weather is. Maybe this weekend, I will make a dash through the downpour, punch through the rain barrier, and head out onto new, unexplored roads.

I have domestic duties to attend to on Saturday, but Sunday is my diem, should I choose to carpe it.

(Carpe diem = “seize the day” in Latin. Other than that, it’s all Greek to me.)

Quantity, or Quality?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

Weather: Blue sky, sunshine, and 70 degrees. In a word… Perfect!

The Hades County Fair?
Springtime in Minnesota…a frenzied carnival of activity.

It’s six p.m. on a gorgeous Spring evening in Minnesota. I am sitting in my attic, under the skylight, typing on my computer. What’s wrong with this picture?

Of course, any idiot knows that I should be out riding.

But this idiot has a dilemma. You see, I feel a responsibility to update this blog on a regular basis. Even though the climate is no longer intent on killing me during my commute every day, I still feel that I should be able to glean some sort of wisdom, and convey some meaningful message, from every ride to work.

Well folks… it ain’t always like that.

I mean, the lessons are there, but I have already shared many of them. I certainly don’t want to be repetitious. It occurs to me now that I could have just gone for a nice, long ride tonight, with my camera, and come up with something that I could write about tomorrow night.

Shoulda, woulda… yeah.

Okay, here’s what I want to do: Reduce the overall quantity of blog entries in this season of good riding, so that I myself can do more riding. Then, when I do update the blog, you will have something of real quality to read.

With “The Baron in Winter”, I was updating 3-4 times per week. I propose to reduce that to 2-3 instead, during the normal riding season. That way, I can spend more time gathering quality material, taking really good photographs, and making Rush Hour Rambling a truly entertaining and informative experience for my readers.

But…what do you think?

Work-to-Ride Special: Surfing the Flood Run

Monday, April 24th, 2006

Weather: Cloudy this morning, clearing as the day wore on.

Leader of the Pack?
It’s early morning on the Flood Run, but the Harley dudes are already getting blurry.

I woke up Saturday morning after twelve straight hours of much-needed sleep. Some kind of intestinal bug had attacked me on Thursday, and sent me home from work and straight to bed. Body aches, chills, and cold sweat ruled my world for the next forty-some hours.

Fever temperature reached 104°F (40°C), and at one point my wife Amy says I sat up suddenly in bed, eyes wide out of a sound sleep, and began jabbering at her about Scooterati hit-squads and military surplus biological weapons. Everyone knows you can buy them on eBay these days. The bastards are out to get me, I tell you!

What? Oh, never mind… the fever’s broke, but the nightmare remains. We all have our crosses to bear.

Now, where was I? The Flood Run! Yes. These are the events that I like to ride around twice a year.

Essentially, they are the Minne-sconsin version of Sturgis or Daytona, and they make up for the brevity by holding them once in the Spring, and then again in the Fall. For many, these are the one-day rides that mark the beginning and end of their riding season.

But, what did I mean by “ride around”?

Well, if you put yourself in the middle of this thing, you get caught-up in an endless, slow parade of clowns on big, shiny bikes with very loud pipes.

They roll down the main streets of picturesque little towns, duck-walking and blipping their throttles to the delight of the citizens gathered by the curbside. If you are mounted on anything but an open-piped chopper, you cannot hear your own bike running. It is loud, slow, and quite boring if you aren’t playing the “Look at ME!” game.

Every once in awhile, a particularly needy Power Clown will stop and let some space open up ahead of him. Then he uncorks the nitrous bottle on his 500 horsepower, Chevy V-8 Boss Hoss, and does a burnout that clouds the air with tire smoke and dead mosquitos.

All of this is done for charity, of course. I imagine the tire companies make out pretty well, too.

Knowing all this, I decided to do things differently this year. Since I wasn’t feeling well, I knew that the usual backroad loops would be out of the question. I just didn’t have the energy for it. Instead, I decided to take my sweaty, shaky self and head out early to Prescott, where the first major stop of the rally was located. There, I would shoot some photos and assess my ability to continue on.

So, you must be wondering how one goes about “surfing” the Flood Run. Well, I’ll tell you…

The key is to get out there early, ahead of the big wave of riders coming out of the Twin Cities. If you time it just right, you get this effortless ride, where you arrive at each stop just after they open, to a welcome from eager bartenders and waitresses who are pumped up for the big day ahead, and at the peak of their customer-friendliness. The food is fresh, and the beverages cold. I found this immediately at a bratwurst stand, in front of the No-Name Saloon in Prescott.

Oh, don't they look scrumptious?
Can’t you just SMELL that? Are you drooling yet? Yum!

Now, this was about nine in the morning, and while my nose and tastebuds were saying “Yes, Yes!”, my virus-ravaged digestive tract was shouting “NO!NO!NO!”.

I reluctantly passed on the bratwurst, and headed inside the No-Name Saloon for a ginger ale instead. I hung around long enough to meet Rick Gevay, rider of the venerable 1946 Harley Davidson UL pictured below.

My Dream Bike...
1946 Harley-Davidson UL: 74 cubic inches of perfectly adequate motorbike.

Rick was too busy to have his photo taken, and I respected that. I made sure to get out of his way as quickly as possible. He told me that the organizers of the Flood Run have conveyed upon him the official title: “Boss of Prescott”, and that honor carried heavy responsibilities.

Trust me when I say that he might well be as old as his wonderful Harley-Davidson. His abundant grey hair and beard, along with his well-weathered riding gear, speak of many decades on the road aboard one of the coolest motorcycles I have ever seen. This is a man I want to interview in-depth, someday.

Well, since most of us can’t afford or support such exquisite ancient machinery, sometimes we have to accept what the factories offer as “retro” models; modern motorbikes with styling connections to the past. They offer the style of the classics with modern reliability and performance. It is a potent commercial formula which has seen success in both the motorcycle and automotive markets.

A glimpse into my future...?
The Yamaha Venture… a modern classic?

One of the bikes that has sucked me in recently is the Yamaha Venture you see here. I don’t know what year this bike was made, but I do know that it has all the styling cues needed to nudge me in the direction of a Lazy-Boy on two wheels.

My wife Amy has told me that all I need to get her to ride with me on long cross-country journeys is a modern Gold Wing. But when I showed her these photos, she said “Yeah, I could go with that.”

I mean, the last time I saw a dashboard like this was on a `59 Ford.

How can you resist a dashboard like that?
“Goodnight sweetheart, well, it’s time to go-oh…”

Oh Baby… But could I have this for my only motorcycle? Alas, no. Unlike the Harley UL, the Yamaha Venture would be ill-suited for exploring dirt roads. I mean, I could do it, but the strain and the risk of breaking expensive bodywork would make it prohibitively risky. Not much fun there. So this one will have to wait until I can afford to have a comfy touring bike sitting around for the occasional vacation ride. Maybe this will be my retirement bike? Huh… assuming I ever get to retire.

However, I was talking about surfing the Flood Run wave, right? The key is to watch the road, and see when the really dense packs start rolling into town. That’s your cue to head out to the next waypoint. You get there, and you find the bar-folks ready and jumping to your every request, all over again.

If you do this all the way, ahead of the main wave of Flood Runners, you are guaranteed a wonderful ride, without the hassle that comes from a crowd of drunk bikers. Nobody likes to stand three-deep at the bar when they are only ordering a ginger ale… right?

Also, when you are early, the line to the bathroom starts and ends with you. Believe me, that can be priceless when you have just eaten a bratwurst against your better judgement. Look, I’m only human… but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Frogwing and I rode all the way to Maiden Rock, and Ole’s Bar. Down by the waterfront, there is a park where many Flood Runners gather, and some spend most of the day there. A railroad track runs through it, and every once in awhile, a freight train comes thundering through. These bad boys drown out even the loudest power clowns.

Thunder in the Valley
Ooh, look at all that shiny, brand-new leather!

After soaking in the scene down in Maiden Rock for awhile, I realized that I was really getting tired. I wasn’t fully recovered from the flu yet, and I didn’t want to push it so far that I would have dizzy spells on the ride home. So I mounted up on Frogwing, and we began to retrace our route, northward.

Now, the nice thing about this, is that the northbound lane was relatively empty of other traffic. The run was heading south, and most of the locals stayed off of the road. As I passed the first cop staked out in a speed trap, I realized that I could render a valuable public service to my fellow riders.

As the next pack of bikes approached, I gave them the low, up-and-down wave that means “Slow Down!”. I got a lot of appreciative nods and waves in return. There have been a few times in my life when I wished somebody had warned me in similar fashion.

Rolling north into Prescott, I stopped at that bratwurst stand again. I just couldn’t resist the second time around. I ordered mine with lots of kraut, and a bright yellow racing stripe of mustard down the middle. This, my friends, was Heaven on a Bun.

Heaven on a Bun
Haute cuisine, Wisconsin style.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the rebellion to start down in the engine room, if you know what I mean. First, my stomach went into shock that I would dare send something so volatile down the hatch. This gave me time to make some miles towards home. Soon, however, Baron von Bratwurst was dancing a polka all over my gizzard. Delirium gripped me, and I couldn’t stop the accordians from playing inside my helmet, all the way home.

Rolling into my driveway, I parked Frogwing on the sidewalk, jumped off, and ran into the house. I was still wearing my helmet when I slammed the bathroom door.