Archive for October, 2006

Public Service Announcement: The Salt Has Hit the Road

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Weather: Rain and Snow Mix 39°F (4°C)

So it’s official, I guess: Winter is here, at least on the roads of the Twin Cities.

How do I know this? Well, in my capacity as a Ride To Work correspondent, I called the Minnesota DOT this morning, and spoke to a nice lady named Beth in their Public Affairs department.

I asked her if the freezing rain and snow this morning had prompted the salt/sand trucks to start operating. This is the harbinger of hibernation for many motorcyclists around the area. Proud owners of expensive motorbikes are loathe to expose them to this corrosive compound, and hence put them away as soon as they see the trucks out, spreading winter on our roads.

Beth called around for me, and spoke to an engineer who told her that they have been laying down “anti-icing chemicals” all week, in preparation for the freezing rains to come. These chemicals do contain salt, she confirmed.

I guess that’s the end for all you Chromium Cowboys out there. Salt is hell on chrome, as we all know. As road conditions deteriorate, we will see the sportbike crowd dwindle, and then the rest… leaving only the hard core commuters to carry the Ride to Work banner into the frigid frontier of our Winter Wonderland.

I’m taking Frogwing out this weekend, for one last blast before I give him his bath and put him to bed. I’ll be wiring up Scarlet for my electric Aerostich gear, and my knobby tires should be here sometime next week.

Man, I wasn’t ready for this. I expected at least another couple weeks of Autumn. But our most beautiful season was fleeting this year. It sped by in a blur of vibrant color, and was gone. We will go through the motions, of course. Halloween is coming soon, after all, and the little goblins will haunt the neighborhood on the designated night.

But I can already feel the change in the air. Jack Frost’s icy breath is strong in the Northwest wind. It’s time to dig out the snowmobile boots, change the visor on my helmet, and get back into the winter routine.

First Thursday, October `06

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

Weather: Perfect Autumn Evening

1TOct06T.jpg
Vincent HRD: Nothing less than The Holy Grail for some enthusiasts.

This is likely to be the last well-attended First Thursday of the year. I can’t remember a late-autumn gathering here at Dulono’s that was so large and full of energy. Every segment of street-legal motorbike was represented. It was truly amazing…

My good friend and lawyer, known here as “Buster Brown”, was holding court inside the restaurant. Sporting an authentic vintage Italian Fedora, he sat at a table with his back to the wall, looking for all the world like The Godfather of some obscure Motorcycle Mafia. He does own a Moto Guzzi or two, come to think of it. My eyes strayed to his fingers, wondering if I was going to have to kiss his ring in order to be granted an audience.

The funny thing is, he arrived in his mini-van (aka “Soccer Bitch”). Live that one down, Buster Brown!

1TOct06_6.jpg
This little Yamaha is one of my favorite Urban Guerrillas.

They call this style of bike a “Street-Tracker“, and I have most of the makings for one in my garage. I love the minimalist philosophy behind taking the flat-track racer to the streets. Some Winter I am going to fire up the furnace out in the shop and build my own. Until then, it’s nice to see such wonderful examples growling around the streets of the Twin Cities.

1TOct06_4.jpg
Cafe Tracker? Another interesting Yamaha.

I’m thinking the bike shown above started life as an SR500 thumper. These were wonderful little bikes in their own right, but like so many Japanese singles, were unappreciated by the American market at the time.

Stylistically, this one looks like a hybrid of Cafe Racer and Street Tracker. I’ll bet it is an effective tool for getting through city traffic. I rather like the color scheme.

1TOct06_7.jpg
What the…?

Micro-Bobber? Mini-Chopper? There are no pedals, so I know we can’t call it a Moped. But I’m intrigued by that little tiny engine. What the heck is that?

Whatever it was, it caught my eye, and my camera lens. It would have been cool to see it run.

1TOct06_2.jpg
Laverda! That’s something you don’t see everyday.

I love the whole idea of Laverdas, with the two and three-cylinder engines in sporting chassis, but I have never ridden one. The triples sound magnificent, kind of like little Ferarris. But they are kind of pricey, and I hear that parts are hard to come by. If I’m going to ride Italian, I think I will stick with Ducati.

Speaking of which…

1TOct06_3.jpg
No, it’s not red, but it is pretty rad.

This Monster showed up right after I had parked Scarlet in a space close by. It has a rather subdued paint scheme, by Ducati standards, but it still managed to exude that exotic cachet unique to the Bologna brand.

Ducati will always own a piece of my heart, even though they hire lunatics for designers. I’m sorry, but the latest generation of 999 Superbike and the Multi-Strada are absolute aesthetic blasphemy, as far as I’m concerned. The remake of the SS didn’t do anything for me either. Oh, but that new/old 1000 Sport? And the Paul Smart Replica? Please tell me this wasn’t the same guy.

1TOct06_5T.jpg
The British Brigade showed up in force, as always.

There’s a Norton Commando hiding behind that red Triumph, but you can only see the front wheel. The crowd was so dense that my photographic perspectives were severely limited.

I have seen these bikes at many a First Thursday, and other events around the `Cities. I continue to admire their classic lines and wonderful sounds. But having ridden a few, and wrenched on a few more, I can definitely say that I’m glad they belong to other people.

Keeping one alive is a labor of love, and takes up much more time than I have to give. My hat’s off to those who can make the necessary sacrifice.

So, that wraps up the First Thursday in October, for 2006. I showed you the bikes which caught my eye, before the daylight faded and the crowds closed in. The Baron posse showed up, but my camera suffered a mishap before I could take any photos. Tony rode his V5, and made quite an impression. Ramblin’ Dan Jones rode his silver PM250, named “Hiyo”. And of course, Scarlet was there, rearing back on her center stand.

We had an interesting ride home. Lake Street was full of construction zones, and moronic drivers. Since it was after dark when we left, all construction personnel had left the area. We took advantage of this to get around the worst of the stoppages.

At one point, accelerating around a delivery truck, we got completely sideways in some concrete dust on the wrong side of the cones. Winter riding reflexes took over, and I planted the left boot on the ground to stabilize what turned into a stylish slide. We fishtailed straight and proceeded to the head of the line, waiting for the traffic signal. From there it was child’s play to get out ahead of the rabble.

It will be interesting to see who shows up, and what kind of weather we have, for the First Thursday in November. Scarlet and I will be there, you can count on that.

Weekend Wandering: Minn-Max Ride

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Weather: Too good to be true…

Silly scooters, water is for boats!
Seventeen scooters, all in a row. Minn-Max represents!

Yeah, that’s right. We were a huge pack, ridin’ down the road like a cavalry on sedatives. And we were breakin’ the law, too. If you click on the photo, and look at that curb, you will see it is painted yellow. That means “No Parking” in these parts, hombre, but we didn’t care. When you ride with a pack this large, nothing can stop you.

Not even the Twin Cities Marathon.

Though it did detour us a bit. The original route was blocked by police, to let the runners pass unmolested by motor-vehicles. Ride leaders Bill and Adam led us on a merry chase, up to the roadblocks, and around the block, circling this way and that. Luckily, there were a few riders scattered throughout the formation with CB radios. They helped keep the whole mess of us together, and we made it out of the city without any casualties.

Once we headed out on the rural roads, Scarlet O’Baron and I began to feel the magic of the Minn-Max formula. Larger “maxi-scooters”, from 250 to 650 ccs, can run the highways if they want, without worrying about getting run over by other traffic. But they still try to stick with the secondary roads as much as possible, because that is where all the cool scenery and stuff is.

We rolled along miles of tree-lined boulevards and country lanes, making almost no noise at all.

Especially when compared to similar packs of full-size motorcycles, who seem obliged to sport open pipes instead of mufflers. If loud pipes really do save lives, then quiet pipes must be very dangerous indeed.

Accept that premise, and you have to believe that this was the bravest bunch of adrenaline junkies I have ever ridden with! Stealth is their modus, and they use it to great effect. People actually smiled and waved at us, where they would normally scowl and snatch their children off the street.

You meet the nicest people on a maxi-scooter!

We arrived at the picnic stop, and parked around the perimeter of the boat landing. What a bunch of outlaws! Then we marched across the bridge and invaded the picnic grounds, armed with sandwiches and bottled water. Scary stuff indeed…

The River... always the river.
At the picnic grounds, relaxing, we watched others do their work.

At the picnic grounds, I spoke to Mel, who originally invited me to ride with this group. There, I also met Mark, who had recently completed a seven-thousand mile journey around America on his Honda Silver-Wing. Then, I met Alberta, who had ridden with the group on her stylish Aprilia Scarabeo. That’s the gold-colored scooter, fourth from the right in the top photo.

Let me tell you, all these folks are fascinating, with wonderful stories to tell. I wished we had more time together under the trees, next to the river, that beautiful Sunday afternoon. But the road was calling, and we are, after all, Riders.

It was time to ride.

We left the picnic grounds and headed out to Grey Cloud Island. Now, let me admit right here that I have been lazy with my research. I can’t tell you a thing about the history of the island or what is in store for it in the future. But I can relate a personal connection…

Eight miles east of Osceola, Wisconsin, on the shore of Mud Lake, there is a little two-bedroom house. My family lived in that house from about 1970 to 1974. During that time, Dad was a tree-trimmer for Northern States Power Company. He commuted all the way to the Twin Cities in a 1969 Volkswagon Beetle.

Now, we all know how small the back seat was in those cars, don’t we? Oh, maybe not. Sorry, my age is showing…

Anyway, Dad’s crew was assigned to clear a bunch of brush for some power company project out on Grey Cloud Island, and he decided to adopt three cedar seedlings, or saplings, or whatever they’re called.

He hauled them home in the backseat of that old `69 Beetle, and trans-planted them in the front yard of our house on Mud Lake. I remember them because I faced a most unpleasant penalty if I ever ran over them with the lawn-mower.

The last time I rode past the old home place, those trees were almost thirty feet tall!

Well, let me tell you that Grey Cloud Island is still rather wild and absolutely vibrant with Autumn colors. We rode a nice loop around the island, and proceded north to other destinations.

Scarlet and I left the procession at Highway 61. I had other family obligations to take care of that day. That was too bad, from what I gather. They all went for ice cream, later on down the road, and we missed it.

I’ll be sure to clear my calendar, next time I ride with this Wild Bunch.