Rambling Through 2006

Wow. Can you believe this year is over already? Twenty-ought-six went by faster than any other year in my memory. I think this is because I filled it wall-to-wall with my two favorite activities: Riding and writing.

It’s warm outside right now. Forty-three degrees F, (6°C), and raining. Certainly not riding weather. That’s alright. My house is warm, and I don’t need to go anywhere. Since all the TV channels are doing some variation on “The Year in Review”, and since I can’t sit still to watch that crap, I am going to do my own Ride to Work version here for you. This is going to run a bit long, and I hope I can make it more interesting than the tube…

(Pause here for a bathroom break, or to pour your favorite beverage.)

As the year began, I was battling the icy roads and cold weather of our Minnesota Winter on a 150cc Chinese scooter. This was quite an undertaking, and it caught the attention of the local media, both radio and television. You will find links to the TV pieces in the sidebar. This provided some needed exposure for Ride to Work, and inspired a few other riders to explore commuting by motorcycle, and to find ways to extend their riding season.

Part I: The Baron in Winter

FrozenButter.jpg
The Red Baron navigates Frozen Butter, exactly one year ago today.

The photo above was taken on my home street, on December 30th of last year. I rode the Red Baron for eight miles with both boots sliding over the snow, and frequently saving us from going down on roads as slippery as frozen butter. Then, exhausted from the constant strain, I elected to take the freeway for the rest of the ride to work. We survived that, but I would never attempt it again. You can read that harrowing tale here.

On New Year’s Day, the Red Baron and I competed in the I-Cycle Derby.

ICD2006.jpg
Photo by someone named “RickCorwn” on the web.

This was a Time/Distance Rally event, and since we had neither stopwatch nor accurate odometer, we didn’t place very well. But we finished, and without crashing. Others, like my friend Mark Foster, weren’t so lucky.

The roads, as you can see, were a treacherous mix of ice, snow, and bare pavement. Traction conditions varied wildly, and the sidehack rigs had a massive advantage: Two riders, one to navigate while the other steers, and no worries about falling down. Still, to this day, they don’t compete in a separate class. It seems that if you want to win the I-Cycle Derby, you have to be riding a `hack.

Shortly after that I developed my theory of “Existential Gravity”; that force which makes time at work crawl, while time at play flies. While investigating this phenomenon, I consulted with my brilliant engineer friend Denny McGinn, who did all the math and figured out that Existential Gravity emanates from an entity that we have dubbed “Brown Holes”. Patents are most certainly pending…

In February, I coined the term “sloppery” to define road conditions that were sloppy and slippery from a combination of slush and underlying ice. It’s hard to read these roads while underway, and it slows you down considerably. Still, with my Kenda 761 tires I was able to cope with the worst conditions Winter was able to throw at us, boots to the ground when the going got rough.

This was not always the case, however. One morning in February, the Red Baron and I crashed right off the end of my driveway, for no good reason. This is what happens when we take extraordinary conditions for granted. I had been riding on Winter roads for only a few months, but in my mind I thought I had them all figured out. Ergo, splat.

The Duel…

On another day in February, we had an interesting encounter which really illustrated the utility of the motorbike over four-wheeled transportation for commuting. But more than that, it was my own favorite blog entry of the year. This was the only blog entry to date which elicited a response from Ride to Work founder Andy Goldfine:

Ya nailed ‘er today, Gary.

Keep it up.

Andy

That statement motivated me. I began to concentrate more on the reactions that we got from drivers out on the Winter roads. One reaction that really surprised me was what we got while broke-down at the side of the road. This, more than anything, illustrated the general public’s opinion of anyone who would try to ride a scooter through a Minnesota Winter. There is no such thing as “Minnesota Nice” if you are doing anything outside the accepted norm. That sort of behavior elicits cold, even hostile indifference.

But herein lies a paradox… Every time I stopped in a restaurant or gas station, during foul weather, I was received as some sort of hero. As long as the conditions were bad, and I was prevailing over them, I was welcomed with open arms. But whenever I had trouble at the side of the road, I was avoided like the plague: “What an idiot! Don’t even look at him!”

America loves a winner, but they loathe anything they perceive as a loser.

Still, while we were looked at askance by the Minnesota Winter motoring public, the Red Baron and I were getting things done.

Commuting at 80 miles-per-gallon, and hauling the groceries home are the stuff of middle-class dreams. Yet those poor slobs still drive the mini-van or SUV back and forth to work because, twice-a-week, they have to transport the kids to some sporting event. The rest of the time they have two-tons of metal hauling their singular person around. How wasteful is that?

RainandFog.jpg
It was a dark and stormy night… The Red Baron conquered all!

Most of them could buy a decent motorcycle or scooter for the money they would save on gas.

But…

They couldn’t talk on the cell-phone while they ride to work.

It is very difficult to sip a Latte through a full-face helmet.

Messing around with a laptop, or paging through the local paper, is not an option on a motorbike.

And finally: They couldn’t be completely ignorant of their surroundings, as they can in the bowels of a Comprehensively-Insured Hummer. “Out of my WAY, peasant!”

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The Red Baron crosses the Finish Line, March, 2006.

In March, I retired the Red Baron, along with “The Baron in Winter” blog, and embarked on my new gig as development rider for Baron Scooters. With the change in mission came a change in blog title. Now that I was going to be riding Frogwing again, along with whatever scooter I was currently testing, I needed to find a title that would fit the new format.

By the way, if you want to read a comprehensive review of The Baron in Winter, pick up the Fall 2006 issue of Scoot Quarterly magazine. This is available on their website.

Part II: Rush Hour Rambling

Ride to Work and I held a contest to name the new blog, and Paul Streeter came up with “Rush Hour Rambling”. The focus of this blog aligns perfectly with the Ride to Work mission. The guiding premise is that you can ride to work, but you don’t always have to ride straight home. On a motorbike, you have a passport to adventure every day when you get off work. The homeward commute is a time for exploration, relaxation, and recovery from the stresses built-up during the workday.

Then, of course, there were the weekend rides, like the Spring Flood Run in April. That report was the first of what I would call “Work to Ride Specials”.

Floodrun1T.jpg
Frogwing emerged from Winter hibernation just in time for the
Spring Flood Run.

This was a huge event, up and down the St. Croix River, on both sides of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. Like most events put on by bikers, this one benefits charity. Originally conceived to bring needed relief for local victims of flooding, the event has evolved to benefit various other charities as well. You can find more info here.

April was a month of extensive testing on two new Baron 250cc scooters; the PM, and the SX. Not only that, but it was the first time that I got my girls up on two wheels. Talk about a milestone!

Amy Scoots!
Spy Photo: Amy Rides!

Emily settled into the role of enthusiastic passenger, and Amy took delivery of her very own Baron 150 VLA scooter. We went on family rides together, usually around the local parks down by the river, and always culminating in a picnic. Family scootering became our new favorite sport.

The month of May belonged almost exclusively to Frogwing. From the frantic First Thursday to the great road trip we took to “Fort Pierre and Beyond“, my faithful adventure-touring steed and I really racked up the miles. Of all the rides and rambles I went on this year, that trip out west was the best by far.

The Long and Winding Road
My faithful Frogwing, on the long and winding road.

June brought the Blind Lizard and the Farmington Antique Motorcycle show. These are both big events in the Minnesota Motorcycling calendar. You get to see more Fine Machinery in the space of a couple weekends than you do all the rest of the year.

We did some more family scootering in June, and Frogwing and I rambled around the lake country in North-Central Minnesota, chasing Forest Fairies and Wood Nymphs near the tiny mythical town of Automba. Another intense month of riding.

July found me completing another round of testing on some of the new Baron scoots, and taking delivery of my very own Scarlet O’Baron. She is a 250cc version of the same tried-and-true SX chassis that I rode through the last Winter. But of course, as I have mentioned elsewhere, in slippery conditions she is a tail-happy wench. This is due to the bigger, heavier, and more powerful engine mounted unsprung to the rear wheel, and the drivetrain inertia that she works up when you twist the throttle.

July was also a month of reunions, both with my cousin Eric, and my old Kawasaki cafe racer, “Gypsy”. Frogwing and I rode up north to the little Iron Range town of Chisum, and spent a weekend riding and visiting relatives.

Gypsy in her natural habitat.
Gypsy was made for roads like this.

August was a busy month as well. This was when I began putting together Ramble Plans, for my homeward commutes, and did a restaurant review that would set the standard for future culinary adventures. I learned that there is something about a close-up photograph of a well-presented plate of food that really grabs the reader where they live.

In late August, Frogwing and I hit the road for work again. I did quality audits in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and Aberdeen, South Dakota. This trip was all-business, with very little time for rambling. We did manage to do another restaurant review and write-up in Watertown, South Dakota, but that wasn’t published until early September.

Reading back through that month’s blog, I can really feel the sense of impending Autumn, and the slowing-down of my riding season. Even though Autumn is my favorite time of year, for some reason I was dreading it back in September. It had been such a hectic riding season, with so much happening all the time, that the thought of slowing down should have been welcome. But for some strange reason that I have yet to figure out, it wasn’t.

October brought the first hints of the coming Winter, along with my first ride with our local Minn-Max group. These folks were wonderful; friendly, unpretentious maxi-scooter enthusiasts. We had an interesting group ride through the heavy traffic and detours around the Twin Cities Marathon, and out to our picnic destination on Grey Cloud Island. The Minn-Max’ers put on several big group rides during the season, and I’m sure Scarlet and I will join them again sometime in 2007.

It was also in October that Kenda supplied me with Scarlet’s Winter tires. The K761s that served us so well on The Baron in Winter have done well on Scarlet, though her extra power and drivetrain inertia overcome rear wheel traction too easily to ride confidently on ice and snow. This year, we are choosing our rides around the road conditions, and not tempting fate too recklessly.

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Emily Witch on Halloween night, filmed in Night Vision Green.

November was surprisingly busy. We began the month by unmasking the Mysterious Red KLR Guy. Only the hard cores showed up for First Thursday, and some of them were driving their cages.

Later in the month, I reviewed Mickey’s Dining Car in downtown Saint Paul. That was a classic. I have dubbed that route “Ramble Plan Charlie”, and will probably go that way to work again someday soon.

Finally, in late November, Scarlet and I crashed for the first time. This set off a series of three unfortunate events, (Why do they always come in threes?) that brought us into this current month of December.

Things have calmed down now, as we stare down the barrel of 2007. Twenty ought-six was a hectic, busy, but in the end very satisfying year. Frogwing is in hibernation until sometime in late March or early April, and Scarlet O’Baron is carrying me on my Ride to Work and the adventures I tell you about in this blog.

I have big plans for Ought-Seven, but I’m not prepared to tell you about them yet. A lot depends on my negotiating skills, and the size of my loyal readership here on Rush Hour Rambling. We are going in new directions, because routine is my enemy, as I have said so many times before. I promise to try and keep it fresh, to inform as well as entertain. We will investigate new Ramble Plans together, and I will review some more tasty local cuisine. You all seem to like that.

Tomorrow is New Years Day, and the I-Cycle Derby. Scarlet and I are going to skip this one. I still don’t have a stopwatch, and we are supposed to get freezing rain and snow overnight. The Tail-Happy Wench is going to stay in the garage, and I guess I am going to spend the day surfing through channels, watching the many different versions of The Year in Review after all. This will probably lead to napping, but that’s all right. Twenty ought-seven is coming, and I had better gather my strength to greet it.

11 Responses to “Rambling Through 2006”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    The year did fly by and it was made more pleasant for myself and I’m sure for many others because of your passion for riding and writing. You certainly inspired me to commute and write.

    Of all the terms you’ve coined the one that has resonated with me through the entire year is Existential Gravity. It helped quantify something that was a vague feeling. For that I can’t thank you enough.

    Both the Baron in Winter and Rush Hour Rambling were and are routine daily stops for me. I’m always amazed at the range of experiences and stories you have and look forward to even greater things in the coming year.

    Happy New Year!

  2. irondad Says:

    “A lot depends on my negotiating skills”

    I didn’t realize you negotiated ( outside of Amy & Emily, of course ). I’m looking forward to seeing what develops. Here’s to another year of adventure.

    Why do we always fight routine so much? It would be so much easier to just settle into a groove. Maybe it’s because a groove becomes a rut, which in turn seems to get deeper and resemble a grave. Are we reaching toward something or avoiding something we fear?

    Looking over your post got me to thinking, darn you!

    Dan

  3. Biker Betty Says:

    This year did go by fast. I look forward to the new year. Not because this last year was bad, but because I alway feel an excitement with each new year. I will have to come back later to read this post. I have a New Year’s party at my home to get ready for.

    Happy New Year!!

  4. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Steve: Thank you. The feelings you express here are mutual. I admire “Scooter in the Sticks” for it’s artistic elegance and abundant wisdom. You do a good job over there…

    irondad: Man, talk about being tuned to the same freak-wency! Just the other day, when I had my performance review at work, I said the exact same thing regarding being careful when settling into a groove, lest it become a rut. We really need to compare DNA…

    Of course, we all know that the force which pulls us from our groove into the ruts is none other than Existential Gravity. Circles within circles, Grasshopper. Don’t hurt your wittle head now.

    Betty: Happy New Year to you too.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  5. Bill Sommers Says:

    This excellent recap of the year gave me a funny thought. It’s a given that you set a good pace for the followers, but I feel like a kid peddling a tricycle like mad trying to keep up with the cool things that you come up with to write about. I like it.

    Looking forward to Gary in ‘07. Happy New Year.
    Bill

  6. combatscoot Says:

    Gary,
    Happy new year, and thanks for the inspiration.
    John

  7. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Bill: Thanks for your kind words. The past year has been a bit frantic, but I’ve never lived any other way. Every New Year sees me making a renewed commitment (NEVER a resolution!) to try to slow down a bit and try to build some Quality into my life. Scooters have helped me do that, somewhat, and I think that is the right path to continue on.

    I’m not going back to sportbikes, except for the occasional road-test and review. Now that my license is clean again, and I’m getting my blood pressure under control, it just wouldn’t make any sense.

    CS John: Happy Twenty Ought-Seven to you sir! Looking forward to keeping up with your new adventures, as well as everyone else linked to this site.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  8. Biker Betty Says:

    Now that things have settle a little, I wanted to come back and read your year in review. I joined your readership in May and it was neat to read from Jan – Dec. Rush Hour Rambling is a daily stop for me. I always look forward to what you have to write about.

    I always hate suspense, so I can’t wait to see what changes you are working on. Whatever they are, I know will be interesting and adventurous. Good luck on your negotiations – whatever it is you are negotiating, tell them we (the readers) said to do it! LOL

    Good Luck, Betty :)

  9. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Betty: Never fear, the changes I have in mind are actually additions. Nothing you like here is going away. We are simply going to explore more subject matter of interest to the moto-commuter.

    That’s really all I can say right now.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  10. Bro Shagg Says:

    Gary-

    The pix of Frogwing and Gypsy at the ready pointed down a long twisty leaves me longing for Spring/Summer! Man, you know how to hurt a guy!

    Happy New Year everybody!

    B.S.

  11. girlbike.com >> scooter life, gear, accessories, & how-to Says:

    [...] What if you keep riding even when it gets chilly? Well, you’ll still want the cover and maybe the Tender, too. Remember to park your scooter out of the way of snow plows, shovels and other winter hazzards. If you do get to take it out when the roads are cleared, be sure to wipe the scooter down if they salt the roads where you live. Many of the fall riding hazards translate to the winter months, so be sure to read that over. Riding in snow or icy conditions is not recommended, although there are a few people who do it, like Gary Charpentier in Minnesota (wander through is blog to see his winter experiences riding a Baron scooter) and Bill Elliot here in Vermont. [...]