Monday, December 1, 2008

It gets better every time!

Every track day is more fun than the last one - this is definitely something I need to do more than 3 times a year...

WAYcold on November 23rd, we found ourselves warming up to the tune of high-revs in the paddock at Carolina Motorsports Park. An unseasonably cold weekend had us doing our first session in thirty-some-odd degrees, but the fun-factor did not suffer!

I spent most of the day working on form, as my inside foot touched-down first at my last 2 track days this year. I wanted to be sure that, if I carved the corners hard enough, my knee would be the first thing to feel the track. Unfortunately track day number five goes to the archive and my knee pucks still look brandy new. Oh well - maybe next time.

On the upside, I had a wicked-cool track coach that was nice enough to tail me for an entire session - with a video camera! Watching yourself in third person is an amazing learning experience. The ability to critique with all distractions and fear removed - amazing! I've come to two major conclusions after watching this video. Number one, I turn in and apex way too early on a lot of corners. Number two, I have a world of throttle to go before I get dangerous, so it's time to apply some aggression (<--Mike's terminology).


Technical assessments aside, it's always a good time meeting the motorcycle experts for a weekend of action :)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Swapping treads myself

I finally committed...I've been wanting to get into changing motorcycle tires myself ever since a buddy of mine began doing it. I was sick of paying the shop $30 to swap a tire (especially since I was removing the wheel from the bike). Opportunity always strikes when you're not looking for it, as such was the case when I stumbled upon a used tire changing stand on

About $180 later, I had everything I needed to remove the rear tire on my SV650:

$180/$30 = 5. The math says that five tire changes is all it will take for me to recoup all my expenditures. Awesome.


So I took on the challenge this wonderful Sunday morning and removed the rear wheel from the SV. I then banked on the information I found here about using 2x4s and a car to break the bead. I cut a 2x4 into the necessary pieces (keeping an 8-footer in its entirety for leverage) and went at it. Of course I emptied the tire of air before playing the bead-breaking game.


Then it was into the basement where I had my tire changing stand and related tools. I messed around some, called my friend, and realized after we hung up that I never actually broke the bead. That was hard for me to believe, seeing as the bead was sliding up and down the inside of the wheel when I was working it over with the 2x4. But sure enough, the bead maintained a seal throughout all that! Wow...


After looking at pictures of tools meant for breaking tire beads, I realized my primitive 2x4s needed improvement. So I sharpened, if you will, the short piece that actually makes contact with the bead of the tire. This ended up being a winner, as I could hear the seal give way when prying and the little air pressure that remained seeped out. Score!


I mounted the wheel onto my tire changing stand and grabbed my No-Mar Mount/Demount Bar. Now, let me first mention how impressed I was when I received my shipment from No-Mar. I ordered their mount/demount bar, a set of wheel weights, and a free DVD they have showing off their products and how to use them. When I opened the box, I found the 3 items I ordered, plus a 2nd DVD, a spray bottle of tire mounting lubricant, and a jar of lubricating jelly for tire installation. And to top it off, the mount/demount bar came with 3 (three!) replacement demount tips (the tips are made of a non-marking material). I definitely felt like No-Mar took care of me, and I'm not easily impressed.

I watched the video and payed close attention to how I should use the mount/demount bar when removing the tire. Unfortunately, the video did not translate so well to the Pirelli 160-60ZR17 I was working with. In the video, No-Mar was able to use the mount/demount bar alone to get between the tire bead and the rim to ultimately pry the bead up over the rim. However, I had no hope of working the demount tip of the No-Mar bar between the bead and the rim. The bead would just go wherever I forced it, and never fought back! So I had to pry the bead away from the rim with a tire iron and then squish the demount tip of the No-Mar bar into the opening made by the pry bar. The first time I was successful getting the demount tip where it belonged, I ended up ruining the demount bar tip as the picture above shows. I was pretty upset, but realized even a fine tool like the No-Mar bar is rubbish if one does not apply common sense. Basically, you should only pry with the No-Mar bar if the fat portion of the demount tip is what makes contact with the rim. In my case, I had pushed the bead so far down, that when I began to pry, the contact point on the No-Mar bar was the actual metal bar! This put intense stress on the connection of the demount tip to the metal bar. Thankfully, No-Mar provided 3 replacement tips in the package! So I swapped demount tips and tried again (making sure the demount tip was in contact with the rim when I began to pry the bead up and over the wheel).


So I got the tire off the wheel and learned how to use the tools I have (without permanently ruining them). I should be picking up a fresh Pirelli SuperSport tomorrow, so I'm pretty sure my tires will pass tech at CMP next weekend.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Riding with a Touch - conclusion

I expect my Friday trip home to be uneventful, so I thought I'd type this up now.

It was between 35 and 45 degrees for most of the riding. Rain found its way into about 50% of the trip, and there were very gusty winds. Definitely not ideal, but with the right gear, all this can be relatively easy to deal with.

Layers. I had a wicking layer on closest to my skin, from neck to toe (I'd love to get some of that capilene by Patagonia). All subsequent layers worn (aside from the riding jacket and pants) provide insulation, and I had two such layers (feet included!). And the last layer was the asphalt protection - Joe Rocket jacket and Fieldsheer pants. Oh yeah, and who can forget the rain protection? $30 at Target's camping section gets you all the rain protection a rider needs!

Fingers and feet! These are the first to get cold, and the hardest to keep warm. I know they make heated grips, but that's like running up the wrong escalator instead of walking on the appropriate moving staircase. So I think the best solution to cold weather riding is to get dirt bike-style hand guards. For the most part, it's the wind chill that's numbing my fingers. So get 'em the hell outta the wind!

The feet I haven't figured out yet. Two layers of socks helps (as long as the first layer wicks), but socks are nothing without an amazing pair of boots. I need to find a pair of waterproof, insulated moto boots.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Riding with a Touch - NJ


I made it! Friendly relatives and the kindness of complete strangers got me to my 3rd home. Can't wait 'til my sister comes home!

Song of the day: More Than a Feeling by Boston - just bought it from iTunes using some neighbor's unlocked WiFi connection. Is this device un-be-freakin'-lievable? I believe it is :)

^ keyed into my iPod touch : )

Riding with a Touch - Wed morn

Just got up - my wife's Aunt and Uncle put me up last night. I slept in a Marmot sleeping bag I'm borrowing (thanks, professor), and I'll tell you what: these hardcore, mummy-style sleeping bags are AWEsome! They're warm, they pack tightly, they rule.

My hosts have 2 young boys, and I think I'm gonna follow them to school this morning. I was invited to, and I figure this is a good way to get the full local experience while waiting for the traffic to cool down.


It's not raining, I see a glimmer of sun light pushing through...I'm pretty hopeful for decent weather.

Last word: damn I'm getting fast @ typing on this thing!

^ keyed into my iPod touch : )

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Riding with a Touch - stopped counting

Wow, where to start? Last time I wrote was from a McDonald's just east of the Susquehanna. I was waiting for the downpour to subside, but decided that I was hitting the road again at 11am no matter what.

So I suited back up, and went into the rain to start the bike. Guess what? It wouldn't start. So there I was in the rain, my feet still wet from earlier, I was cold, and I was wondering what the heck I was gonna do. After messing with the choke, throttle, and starter, I found the magic combination that got the bike running. However only one of the two cylinders were firing. Great...

Even though I had to use the throttle to keep the engine alive at idle, I decided to hit the road in hopes the other cylinder would just start working. After about 2 miles, I realized my dream was not gonna come true.

So I pulled over on the side of 462 and removed the seat to get to the tool the cold rain. I got to the point where I had the tank propped up and I inspected the ignition wires. There was nothing obviously wrong. I realized I was not going to be able to troubleshoot this problem with the tools I had (let alone the environment I was in).

I pondered my awful luck for no more than 30 seconds before a van zipped by and violently pulled-over into the shoulder ahead of me. Then, the driver threw it in reverse and snaked around me so that the front of his car faced me in the shoulder.

"You need help?" came blaring out of a PA system. I was like, "uhhhh..." I walked over to the passenger side door, and the driver rolled the window down. The guy's name was Raul (I don't know the spelling, but the phonetics were like Rah-ool). He was a scooter rider, and stopped for me because he'd want someone to stop for him if he were in the same situation. I've since decided to adopt the same code...

Anyway, Raul told me about Trans-Am Cycles in Lititz, PA, which was about 12 miles from where I was. He gave me their number (well not exactly, but gave me enough info to figure it out), and said he'd, "pray for me." Thank you, Raul.

So I put my bike back together, got my luggage re-attached, and hobbled my one-cylinder bike to Trans-Am. It was a rough ride, because the dead cylinder would kick-in rarely (causing the machine to accelerate sporadically).


So I finally arrived at Trans-Am, and Dave, from the service department, was ready to dive in. After about 2-3 hours, I was back on the road with new plugs and a thoroughly-cleaned pair of carbs. Trans-Am was so accommodating, I am in debt to them for taking me on such short notice and turning around a completely road-worthy bike.

More rain, wind, and hypothermia awaited, but I finally ended up at my destination. It took me all day to drive, effectively, 100 miles.

Last word this time? I know I hate them, but I will always own a cell phone from this point on.

Riding with a Touch - stop 4


I enjoyed warm, restful, and most intellectual accommodations at my cousin-in-law's. I had only put in about 110 miles by the time I arrived, but they were some cold miles, dammit! It was an evening of hard cider, sushi, and cocktails from the bookshelf bar (with lots of conversation in-between).


So I followed a well-dressed college professor out the front door of an old York town home this morning, and into rejecting weather. After about 25 miles, I retired to a McDonald's - I know, I know, but do you know how warm it is in there?!

My rain gear is creating a puddle on the floor and I'm taking up a whole table with my stuff. Here's hoping the rain stops...


Last word - you have to pay for WiFi @ McD's? WTF?!

^ keyed into my iPod touch : )

Monday, October 27, 2008

Riding with a Touch - stop 2

York College. Weird layout - I can not tell where the campus starts and where it ends! Anyway, it has not noticeably warmed-up.

So I crossed the Mason-Dixon on 194, and that road's scenery did not disappoint. I beheld some of most striking Maryland landscapes ever, even under threatening skies. And in PA, 194 was a window into some kick-@$$ industrial towns with old brick buildings backed by mills and other factories. 110 miles of the afternoon is AKA Driver by TMBG. Let's see if I can find a hot spot so I can post these.

^ keyed into my iPod touch : )

Riding with a Touch - 1st stop

It is flippin' cold as hell! This was not part of the plan, so I'm @ a Dunkin Donuts in Frederick, MD eating sausage, egg, & cheese on a bagel. I don't even remember how much I payed for it, but as far as I'm concerned, its warmth was worth $20.


So I am doing a short motorcycle trip since have a few days off between jobs, and I bought an ipod touch for the occasion. What is the correlation, you ask? There isn't one, but this device is the sh*t!

Well, here's hoping things warm up - this 1st 50 miles has been rough. Pictures for each stop will be added later. Gonna listen to some Mraz - I was singing his stuff in my helmet since I left Centreville!

^ keyed into my iPod touch : )

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tire Paranoia

I just signed up for my fifth track day. I should totally be excited about this, but like every other track day, I look at my tires and ask myself, "Am I going to get through tech with these?"

It shouldn't be a big deal. They've got tire vendors on location that can help me out if I fail inspection. But between the novice-level classes and the fact that I'm still an amateur, the last thing I need is another logistical step on my track day.

My tires have enough tread for many more miles of street use, but I have little experience with the amount of tread required to get on the track. I'm sure this is a common dilemma where the real solution is to get good @ taking the wheels off. That way you can quickly get the wheels to the tire vendor so they can replace them if needed. I wonder if they charge an installation fee, or if you just pay for the tire...

Thursday, August 28, 2008


It finally happened - I finally found a collection of roads in our area worth riding. I had pretty much accepted that there was nothing for us, and that we'd just have to wait for our Smoky Mountain trips to make the most of our 2 wheelers. But at last - salvation!

It's about 30 miles of interstate to get to the roads of interest, and then you get a good 70 miles of twisties and switchbacks. Unfortunately, once you finish the roller coaster, you're about 50 miles from home - that's a total of 150 miles, 80 of which is highway traveling. Tough trade-off, but it's the best I can find in Northern VA.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pelican Case Closure

I'll keep this one short - I finally mounted a Pelican 1550 that I bought in person at Dulles Case Center. The case is mounted via two bolts that go directly through the passenger seat.

I drove to work today with my backpack in the case. The 1550 has a lot of room, and the mounting method seems to be pretty darn stable.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back to the workbench

I don't know why I do it, but every few months I insist on pushing my skilled labor to its limits. This usually results in extreme frustration and disappointment. I mean, I don't know how to weld, and really, my ability to work with metal is limited to hacksaws (cutting), files (making up for bad cuts), drills (making holes), and JB Weld (gluing metal, if you will).


While most of my attempts result in failure, sometimes I succeed. This usually happens when I design a solution that's crude, simple, and does not require tight tolerances. Hell, our Honda Element is still roaring along with our homemade intake bracket.


So my latest endeavor consists of mounting a Pelican case to the SV. I looked at the Givi top case rack, but it's just way too expensive. I also considered buying a spare passenger seat, and mounting the Pelican case directly to that. Unfortunately a used passenger seat will set me back about $60. On the other hand, five-or-so feet of angle aluminum was $12 at ACE Hardware, so here I go again.

I'll post back with more as I get further, but I'm already under way on a bracket, made solely of angle aluminum. Said bracket will mount to the bike in place of the grab rail. And as soon as I'm done, I'll have earned the reward of shopping for my Pelican case!

Update #1

I've created 4 pieces of my 5-piece design so far - 2 pieces bolt directly to the subframe (where the grab rail originally mounted).


The other 2 pieces are take-offs, if you will, from the pieces that mount to the bike. I'm joining each piece with JB Weld (what else?) to hold them together so I can complete the bracket. If I decide JB Weld won't cut it, I'll have to figure out some other way to sure the connections...


Update #2

*sigh* - after many design discussions with my wife and my father, I was convinced that a much better design was to mount the case directly to the passenger seat (for stability reasons among others). So I've got the seat off and I think I've decided on a way to make it all work. I'll be picking up a Pelican case tomorrow @ lunch and hopefully I'll have it mounted for our Shenandoah trip Sunday!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Barber Motorsports Park


We did a track day with STT Southern at Barber Motorsports Park a few weeks ago. I've started this post three times since then, and I'm still having trouble getting my raving lunacies under control. So I'll use a few images this time in place of words.


Unbelievable. Where other tracks simply provide an area to park your rig and some decent asphalt to carve, Barber invites you into a gated community of golf course-quality grounds, an unmatched collection of motorcycle history (see their museum), and a crash-friendly, jaw-dropping race course.

I have a lot to learn about road racing (only my 4th track day), but the STT staff at a venue like Barber rewards you just for trying. I definitely got my money's worth on this track day -


- and of course the great company didn't hurt.

Thanks to the beautiful photographer, who plans to be on the bike next track day!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Route planning

Ask me what I'm doing this weekend, and I'll tell you visiting family. Ask me what I did last weekend, and I'll tell you the same. Ask me what I'm doing next get the point. I love visiting family, but this way of life wreaks havoc on my motorcycling time. I know, why not use the bikes to go on these trips? No reason.

And so this weekend we're giving it a go - visiting my father-in-law on the SV650S and Ninja 250. The idea seemed simple and appealing at first, but then when I thought about the Interstates we usually use to get there, I decided we needed to find a back-roads way of getting there. This trip usually takes us about 3.5 hours using 66, 495, 95, 476, 76, and Pennsylvania's SR-422. How can I possibly come up with a route anywhere near that simple if I stay off the highways? Oh, I forgot to mention one little thing...

...friends of ours recently shared their Mad Map with us - theirs was a map outlining large weekend loops to drive in the Smoky Mountain area. Mad Maps seems to focus on twisty and/or scenic roads for their weekend loops. When our Economic Stimulus $$$ rolled in, we bought 3 Mad Maps, and one of them covers New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We tested this map out a few weekends ago when we aimed the Civic for Northern New Jersey - instead of our usual early morning sprint up 95, we swung West and came in on 78. Before the PA/NJ border, we branched off to drive a 30+ mile portion of one of Mad Maps's Pennsylvania loops (which ended up putting us on 80, and we entered the Garden State that way).

We were not disappointed.

This was 30 miles of windy roads with constant elevation changes and banked turns. Speed limits would drop to 25 as you pass through a 4-block ghost town, and before you knew it, you were back up to speed carving asphalt you may never have found otherwise.

So, what I haven't mentioned, is that we aim to fit a portion of a Mad Maps loop into each trip. Now keeping the whole trip off the freeway and getting a taste of Mad Maps in the same trip to Perkiomenville, PA has proven quite challenging. I admit, route-planning is a very new activity for me. But with Google Maps and a AAA membership, I should have the tools I need to come up with a decent line.

While the jury is out on the decency of my line, the fact remains that it's a 210-mile route with over 70 turns - all of which GMaps estimates will take us 6.5 hours. It's quite a price to pay if this is the cost of using motorcycles to visit family. We'll see how we feel about it when we reflect upon the trip on Steve's wooden rockers...


Well, it basically took us about 8 hours. We did everything from ferrying across the Potomac to sliding through gravel roads with our sport bikes. The scenery was great, some of the roads were totally cool, but this is no way to get from point A to point B. Needless to say, we took a much simpler route home.


No regrets, though!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yeah, I'd wear a Triumph t-shirt

I usually hate sporting brand names. It makes me feel like a tool for someone else's profit. At least, that's how I usually feel. But after our Saturday motorcycling adventure, I think I've made an exception.

Megan tracked down a Triumph demo event happening at Clinton Cycles, a dealership just over the Woodrow Wilson bridge in Maryland. The idea of getting to test drive a Street Triple had us more than interested in heading out there, so I hit Google Maps in an attempt to plan a back roads route. We even managed to gather Will onto our bandwagon - the more the merrier!

And so we set out Saturday morning, the 3 of us riding staggered. While we kept off the highway as much as possible, we had to hit 495 to get across the Potomac. We hopped onto some local roads asap, and got lost as fast as we got off the interstate. Our impeccable sense of direction and Megan's map got us, finally, to the Triumph dealership much later than we had planned.

Ah, but this is where the fun began! Parked in the lot was a gigantic 18-wheeler sporting the Triumph logo, and a fleet of machines straight out of their 2008 catalog. After cooling off in the dealership's accessories department, we headed for the Triumph demo truck to see what they had to offer.

It was great - after a waiver, they had a sign-up sheet with a matrix - each row represented a bike they had, and each column was a 1/2 hour time slot. Every 1/2 hour you could sign up for whatever bike you wanted to take out! If the bike you wanted was taken, you could just sign up to ride whatever other model was available. Between the 3 of us we got to try 4 different models - it was a blast.

The Triumph team led us out in a staggered group on the local roads. They had one lead rider, one rider in the middle, and one rider taking up the rear of the pack. Mixed in-between were people like us getting a kick out the whole event.

The Triumph reps were really friendly and they basically let us have a little field day with their bikes. It was a low-stress, low-intensity motorcycling event, but for some reason it was still way fun. I'll leave the bike reviews for future posts, but bottomline? I like Triumph.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

To modify, or not to modify...

I remember after my first track day with a Triumph Thunderbird about a year ago. Sure, it exemplified, for me anyway, that you learn more after your 1st track day than you learn in a year of street riding. But I also thought I learned my TBird's ground clearance wasn't good enough, so I began chasing down foot peg and exhaust modifications to keep them from touching the track. After a lot of money and time, I learned that my problems were really due to my riding skills and the fact that I was using a motorcycle that would never really be meant for the track.

So my modifications were fruitless.

Then I swapped the TBird for a 1st gen SV650. The supposed niceties of the SV I bought included an already-installed GSXR rear shock, and clip-on risers. Guess what? I recently installed a stock rear shock from Ebay and I'm currently installing stock clip-ons. Why? The GSXR shock was way too stiff to get any rear wheel feedback, and the front brake lever would compress fully against the front fairing before the handlebars lock when turned to the left.

So I'm spending my time undoing modifications instead of riding.