Search This Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Spook Hill and Bok Tower Gardens - a adventure to be had

I can think of no better day than today to post about my adventures in the "other realm".  Not the realm of spooks and ghosties but the realm of the automobile.  OH SCARY!

We, my long time girlfriend and I, had not been out on a date night for a while and with a rare Saturday off, we decided to go on an adventure.  Spook Hill and Bok Tower Gardens are about an hour away, and I thought it might be an interesting adventure on the bike.  Sadly my lovely GF does not want to ride 2-up with me yet, fearing that I don't have the experience to handle it.  I fear that she may be right, so we made a picnic lunch and off we went in our jeep!

I got to be honest, I was not expecting much out of Spook Hill and frankly I was surprised by the effect.  It left me grinning like a idiot.  Florida is a state full of optical illusions, going down the road it's common to see mirages that disappear as quickly as it appears due to the heat and curves of the land.  The below photo gives you an idea of what the hill actually looks like.

I pulled up to the line and put the car in neutral.  I was expecting to sit for a bit and then feel the car move slowly at first.  It didn't happen that way.  We started to roll. Quickly. Uphill! The girl friend and I looked at each other and smiled.  Just to give you an idea of how quickly there is a video here.  The hill is much steeper than you would think as well.

When traveling somewhere however you should always double check on things.  Sadly we were turned around from Bok Tower due to a private event.  I was disappointed but not to much as we learned that the town of Lake Wales was having its Pioneer Days.

A free event featuring displays, a parade, reenactors and the lot.  We spent the day dancing to country music, wandering from craft table to craft table and eating the usual fair food that has no redeemable qualities. Bluegrass and country music filling the air as a bright sun shone down.

While I would have preferred to have ridden the Burgi over, it was obvious that Spook Hill is best experienced in a car.  With the holidays coming up the lovely Susan and I may yet ride over to Bok Tower and see the sites.  Maybe by December she will trust my experiences enough to climb on back.  Or maybe I'll invest in a sidecar....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Here's to you Jack Kerouac

Yesterday I had some personal business to do in Clearwater and St Petersburg, Florida.  My plan was to originally take the Bergi down, get some good shots of it framed against the deep blue of the Gulf of Mexico waters and then have dinner at the Flamingo, the bar where Jack Kerouac supposedly had his last drink.

As it so happened I ended up having to take my car down since I had no way to properly strap the GPS to the Bergi (Note to self:  get a GPS mount) so no pictures of the bike on the Bay.

October 21, 1969 was the day that Jack Kerouac died at the age of 47, and American Literature lost a unique and original voice.   Kerouac, for those of you that may not know, wrote the seminal novel On the Road.  Although personally I don't consider this to be his best work, preferring his next work - The Dharma Bums, to be the height of his work as a writer..

I read On the Road years ago, I was influenced by it like thousands of others before me, not so much to leave home and travel about the it did for a few people I know...but to go ahead and experience different things and sensations.  To break out of my explore and fall in love with life.

On the wall of the Flamingo
As a young and hopeful writer at the time I fell in love with his "spontaneous prose" which at times seemed sporadic and musical, crazed and insane and oh so wonderful.

I read more of his work, and that opened me up to other writers and ideas and ways to live.  Where as Jack's work influenced me to live with a sense of adventure and wanderlust, in the end his work has always struck me as sad and lacking.  He was always traveling, looking, searching for something that always seemed just out of reach.

Sitting at the bar, a bottle of beer in front of me, I reflected on all of this.  The journey that lead me to sit alone in a bar on a Tuesday night, perhaps on the very seat one of my icons sat on forty years ago.  I paid for the beer, walking out of the bar feeling a little down...knowing that a great talent died way to young.

I looked up, two people on a cruiser pulled up her arms wrapped around his and they smiled...then pulled away and went off on their next adventure somewhere down the road.

I smiled, looked up at the sky and gave a silent "thank you" and went home.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The return of the shade tree mechanic

Growing up in the 70's and early to mid 80's when my Dad had a problem with his car he took it down the road to a guy named Dan.  Dan worked out of a barn in the back of his house, or on a warm spring or summer day, under a big old oak tree my brother and I loved to climb.  He was literally a shade tree mechanic right down to the ever present bottle of beer.

I am not mechanically inclined.  It's not that I don't understand the principles of it, the weird thing is that in my life I've been a lab rat.  I worked for years as a civil engineering tech and now work for a GPS company.   I understand tech.  I speak tech.

Just don't ask me to actually fix or repair anything.  I find humor in the fact that I know more about how the road under my wheels is constructed than the machine I'm riding on it.

When I bought my scooter I knew that had to change.  I've done minor repairs in the car, "How difficult could it be to change the oil?" I thought.    Well truthfully in the Burgman, not hard at all.   Although I did quickly learn that some things I would have to do in the future were going to require more than a Phillips head screwdriver and a wrench.

The oil change itself was pretty simple and my thanks go out to Gary for walking me through it the first time, although after watching him do it I think I could have handled it.

He also pulled apart the CVT which started me thinking how little about the machine I decided to ride.  If there is a squeal I know I can sit and think about it and identify where it's coming from...even be pretty sure what's causing it.   Fixing it...not so sure and mechanics love to see a rube like me coming!

I understand the physics of it...the principles of my bike.  I know that if I take the time and invest the energy I'll be able to fix the minor problems, change the oil and even seek shade under that old tree.  If I invest the time and energy.

OK, maybe not the shade tree mechanic I had in mind
What modern car dealers don't want to tell you is that, Dan - remember him - does not actually exist.  Things today are all electronic do dads and whatit's.  The mechanic today is more of a computer diagnostics person than the proverbial grease monkey.  Watching people work on their bikes harks back to a simpler time.

Their is an amazing community of "gearheads" out there.  When a strange black streak appeared on my variator the first thing that popped into my mind was that the belt was not seated properly and rubbing against the metal.   That could either result in a broken belt or replacing the variator itself.

As it so happened that mark appears to be a normal thing, as Gary posted the pics and question to the Burgman USA forums and had an answer within a few hours.  So I feel pretty confidant moving forward that if I have a issue or question I can get the answer.  I feel that I can work on this bike, or at least ask the right questions if I do take it to a mechanic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Feeling homesick this time of year. Riding in the fall.

I always have mixed feelings with the arrival of fall.  Living previously in Western Pennsylvania I was blessed with remarkable colors, cooler nights, football (both the European game and my beloved Steelers), sharp apple cider - either spiked or not, warmed or not.  Egg Nog - again spiked or not and either served with or without chocolate favored whipped toppings.

It was also depressing as the nights grew longer and the days hinted of winter just around the corner.  Where I have always enjoyed working in my yard, raking leaves is a never ending task...perhaps better suited to the horrors of Hades.  I've often wondered if Sisyphus was given the choice of pushing the rock up the hill or raking leaves.  I'm sure he chose the rock.  I will not mention the four letter word starting with an "S" that always replaces the raking of leaves with another back breaking labor.

Now that I live in Central Florida there is a much subtler autumn.  Marked by the migratory arrival of the grey and blue tufted snowbirds, the drop in the Gulf's water temperature from "warm bathwater" to "bathwater" and the cooler days and nights designed for riding.  Although the other day when I rode to work the ambient temperature gauge on my Bergie said "93".   That is "Freaking Hot" for the understanding of my international readers.  When I left work at midnight the temperature was a much more manageable 73 degrees.

When I ride home at night, I normally just throw a sweat shirt on under my bright yellow riding jacket and that is the extent of my winter gear.  I certainly cannot imagine such things as heated pants and gloves and other equipment that many of my northern friends either have or are considering to extend their riding season.  Some I am sure have already started to put their bikes away.

I can picture what it must be like right now in my home state of Pennsylvania, the leaves blazing with color.  Riding at a leisurely pace along the back roads just living in the moment, pulling over in some small road side cafe', where the locals bring their own coffee mugs that hang proudly displayed behind the freshly made pumpkin pie.  I can just imagine what it would be like to put my 400cc Burgie into the twists and turns of my home.

It's not that adventures and twisties can't be found here in Florida.  A simple trip to get gas lead to my going out of my way some 60 odd miles just to ride on a clear and sunny morning, where I passed someone on a 1980's era Honda Elite that looked ecstatic to see another scooter rider.  It's these moments I am starting to realize, is why people ride.   I also begin to feel that the scooter is well suited for me at this stage in my life...where I am more interested in enjoying the journey than rushing from point A to point B.

If this is what growing older is...I can live with it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Orlando's Snowbird Classic and other rides and rally's

As the French might say "Le Sigh!"

I had heard about the Snowbird Classic Scooter rally earlier and had planned on going this weekend.  However I ended up having to work late Friday night (I normally work till 12:30 - 1 AM at my job but got stuck working till 2...then had to commute an hour home).

The original plan was to drive down to Tampa first and meet up with my new buddy Gary and another rider or two, then go over to the Rally which is just north of Orlando.    I had the camera ready, a full tank of gas and my heart set on going.  

Two problems though.   Riding on only 3 to 4 hours of sleep is stupid and I would have to turn around to be back at work by 4 PM today.

Next year for sure.

The next rally I know of for sure is in nearby St Pete's and is the weekend of Nov. 11 - 13.  Again it's something I really want to go to but with my schedule being what it is....I can't really commit to something.  

I may just ride out to the local Wine and Food Festival on Nov 12 at Rosa Fiorelli Winery if I can't go to the rally.  Some great people and wonderful wines.

Anyone need to fill a position on daylight shift?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rain Gear - the Gearing Up Saga continues in this week's exciting episode!

When we last left our intrepid hero he was standing in the parking lot in front of a homeless shelter getting trained on a little Honda Rebel in the pouring rain...we join him now.

The evil motorcycle instructor speaks first:  "What you guys may want to do for tomorrow is stop at a Target or Wal - mart and pick up some camping rain gear. It's about $30 bucks and in this economy we all got to save a little green."

Which is exactly what I did.  Picking up a green colored rain suit from Coleman.  The next day the weather radar didn't even give a chance of rain...opting for the much more easier to understand "RAIN!"  I have to admit that the suit kept me about 98% dry throughout the day, of course we were doing low speed maneuver's in a closed parking lot and there is no way to tell how well the suit would put up with normal driving speeds with cars passing you in either direction.

Coleman rain suits
I never really thought about something like this before, opting instead to eventually buy the more traditional motorcycle rain gear.  This suit however had Velcro adjustable cuffs and snaps on the arms and legs.  The pants leg was designed to go over my boot without issue and snap shut, keeping water out of the boot.

Currently I've two pair of gloves, a lighter "summer" pair that I wrote about already, and a pair given to me as a gift that I can tuck the jacket that I'm wearing under and then Velcro down so the jacket does not ride up.  Neither really works well with this jacket and I 'm starting to see way serious riders might have 3 - 5 if not more pairs of gloves.

The zipper was protected by a storm flap with snaps.  Well the 20mm PVC plastic may not be the served my purpose well on the course.

Still though you can't help but wonder how it will perform on the road in a real world circumstance.  I have to wait and see though.  I returned it because the size I had was to large, although I do think getting a size larger - at least for the jacket is the way to go.  I want to be able to dress in layers if I'm going to be out on a nasty day and need to keep that in mind.

Green is also not my best color.  My scooter is invisible to begin with, and in the rain a little more visibility never hurts!  I'm currently seeking a yellow one and am actually considering something like a picture from Frog Toggs.   Of course, for the price of the pants and jacket I may be better off getting actual "motorcycle rain gear" which will not only keep me dry but protect me in case of a fall.

Like everything in life however it's a I get something I know I will need and use for a lower price sacrificing quality (and possible safety) because I can afford it now, or put it off till I can afford it later.  If I do that I know that if I'm caught out in the rain (and I live in Florida...I will be caught out in the rain) that I will not only get wet, but be less visible and possibly suffer from hypothermia as a result?

For now I try to avoid riding in the rain whenever possible.  But right now I'm leaning towards spending the $50 dollars or so and getting something like the Frog Togg's above.  I would rather have something to keep me dry and safe for now...I will buy the better suit later although I'm seeing sales on various discontinued items.  While buying online might be cheaper, I still feel that putting on the gear and reviewing it up close and personal might be the way to go...I can always go back and find a better price online.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Getting it legal....

When I was just a wee lad growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I didn't know anyone that rode.  In fact, it wouldn't be till I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina right out of University that I even knew anyone that owned a bike.

As I grew older my circle of friends grew to include bikers, many of whom were serious about their Harley's, BMW's and one guy I knew even collected Indian's.  Hell, even my ex wife rode!  Yet I still did not understand what the big deal was.

My reasons for getting the scooter I did were more economical than anything but I know understand why they would take off for a weekend and just ride with no particular destination in mind.  In a way I'm sorry I didn't "get it" before.  So when I decided to upgrade from a little 125cc to the bigger 400cc Burgman I knew I would get my endorsement.

In Florida you can either get your motorcycle  endorsement on a 150cc scooters or on a 250cc  motorcycle licence.  The licence will allow you to ride either.   I decided to take the class on the motorcycle, after all you never know when you might move up right?  For someone like me who has never really ridden before it was an eye opener of sorts.  Where I thought the scooter was challenging enough learning how to work the controls of a motorcycle were a whole new challenge.

We also had to learn it in the pouring rain and howling wind over a short two day period, not the ideal condition's but I was looking at it this way; if I did well now...I know I could it in better conditions.  A opinion that seemed to be shared by my fellow trainees.

So after a few mistakes and a few realizations that "Yes, I've been doing this wrong!" I worked hard on correcting those mistakes.  Breaking habits that I somehow picked up - like covering the front brake handle with my hand.  While I'm not happy with my final score (I am my own worst critic) I can say that I did OK.

So I have the insurance, the licence, the experience will come with every mile under my wheel.  I'm part of the brotherhood now, for better or worse.  I took the class through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and highly recommend it to anyone thinking about riding, or who has ridden illegally for a while.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A nice Saturday ride

It's only been a few days after my longest ride yet, easily over 150 miles including my commute to and from work that day.  I'm sure that a better writer could describe it in detail without the sickening use of so many adjectives.

This past weekend I got the chance to go over hill and dale, through valleys deep and wide and twist and turns at speed that challenged and scared me...while at the same time putting a grin on my face and a ringing laughter in my helmet that only I could hear.

Not the church in question but similar.
I lost track of the miles as my riding partner Gary choose a route through the orange groves and forgotten little towns of rural Florida.  We rode hard and faster than I would have liked at times due to a late start and the fact that I had to work late in the afternoon.  We rode for a solid two to three hours passing a small local winery...which frankly I hope to find again on another journey.  Past an old Spanish Church straight out of the American southwest which called for exploration but learning it's story will have to be put off for another day.

We rode on down tracts where farm equipment roamed free and threatened to push us off into the saw grass, past trees loaded with oranges and kumquats.  Turn after turn to the right, to the left until I was unsure if I knew how to get home if I should lose Gary around a corner.  Truthfully it would not of mattered, every road leads somewhere and once you're somewhere you can always figure out a way home.  A brief stop for gas to feed a hungry beast and his smile was as big as mine.  We were children on Christmas day again; all brought about by a few twists and turns in the road.

Just an old funky building found on another ride.
While the ride did encourage me to ride longer and harder, proving to me that I can indeed go more than 50 miles in any one direction - without numb ass too - it also got me thinking about one of the reasons I wanted to ride in the first place.  To discover the hidden parts of America you don't see from the Freeway.  That old Spanish church, a small winery, an old graveyard, some weird little building that has a story to us, if we are willing to listen.

I can also see the attraction of rallies and poker runs.  Making and sharing stories with new friends over endless cups of coffee at the local diner and then chewing up the asphalt.  I may have bought scooter with the intention of simply going back and forth to work with it, but damned if I don't want to do more with it now.  That sense of adventure...of hard to explain.  I've had friends that have been bikers all their lives and who would try to explain it to me.  I don't think I ever "got it" till now.

You go into a twisty and you feel your body see that butterfly at the edge of the road...Your connected to the world around you in a much different way when your riding.  Suddenly "taking the long way around" doesn't seem like it's that bad of an idea.  So yea, I hope to go riding with Gary or others again.  Hopefully we will have more than two and a half hours to spend on the road.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scooters and the environment - oops! Sorry mother nature!

2011 Victory King from another show.
I was watching Mythbusters the other night and watched with interest as they did a show on the environmental impact of motorcycles.

We all know that scooters and motorcycles are lighter than cars and have smaller engines.  Having less weight does increase the fuel mileage, which is why my 405 pound (dry weight)  Burgman is averaging around 65 miles per gallon.  Where as my 2002 Hyundia Elentra (dry weight of 2522 pounds) is about 25 mpg.  It therefore stands to logic as well that my Burgman puts out less CO2.  The results on the show reflected that as well.

What the Mythbusters did was to test representative cars and motorcycles from the past 30 years for fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions and the so called "smog producing" gasses.   While motorcycles beat out the cars in fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions, they failed horribly in the smog producing category.  What the show sadly did not take into consideration is that cars simply produce less "smog" than a bike is because of the various filters and other devices that are placed onto a car's engine.  These regulators can not be placed on a bike without increasing it's weight and reducing it's fuel efficiency.   It's a trade off that we will have to correct in the future by making a better bike with lower emissions, especially in Asia and Latin America where the scooter and motorcycle are one of the primary means of transportation.

Downtown Tampa
I worry about these results because I consider myself a "environmentalist" of sorts.  One of the reasons, if not the main reason, I bought my Bergie was to save money on gas.  I did consider the lower environmental impact as well when switching to two wheels instead of four.  

Living in Tampa, Florida is wonderful, I've seen so much wildlife and exotic flora here.  Having lived in one of the most cloudiest places in America for years, I hope I never take a truly sunny day for granted.  I plan on living out my days here.

Tampa however is in trouble.  Recent studies have show are air quality to be lower than cities that have a denser population.  There could be many reasons for this, a horrid lack of public transportation; the urban sprawl that affects most southern cities resulting in having to use your car more.  We live in a very warm climate as well and air conditioning is needed to keep mold down and make life bearable.  This also adds to the lower air quality.  Realizing that by riding my bike I was directly affecting the air quality in a negative way came as a bit of shock.

Somehow, as a community and as indivuals, we will have to decide what is best for us.  I am eventually going to replace my car with my scooter.  Saving money and reducing my carbon footprint.  In doing so I'm going to increase the amount of smog producing gasses into the air.  It's not an easy or fair choice but in the end it's a compromise I can hopefully live with.  At this stage in my life and with the economy the way it is...I've little choice.  I need to save money.

The next scooter or motorcycle I buy however will be much more environmentally friendly, knowing what to look for...the more data you gather, only helps make a conscious decision on the best way for you to live your life.