Category Archives for "Interviews"

Jun 17

Conversation with Dave Swezey, General Manager of Ride West

By kevin | Interviews

I started wandering in and out of Ride West, the Seattle BWM dealer long before I bought one of their bikes.  The truth is that I wander in and out of a lot of bike shops, but there was and is something different about Ride West.  Everyone is just that much friendlier.  The place is that much better merchandised.  It’s all the little stuff.

Along the way I bought a lot of gear there and then late last year, I “drank the koolaide” and bought one of the mighty K-Bikes.

I’ve known Dave Swezey, the manager, casually for the last year of so.  Ride West is a very involved sponsor of two track days that I teach through Puget Sound Safety so we’ve met and talked along the way.  Without taking anything from Dave, he’s like a lot of people I’ve met in the business: Passionate about motorbikes and the people who ride them.  It’s one of the best parts about any enthusiasm  — it’s just different walking into a bike shop vs. walking into a Home Depot.

Motorbike dealers come in for a full range of commentary.  I know there are some great dealers out there and there are some less than great.  Everyone I know has both kinds of stories.  I’ve mostly had good stories and one of my best leads back to Dave.

A couple of weeks ago I was getting ready to teach one of those track days I just mentioned.  Two days later I was going to go on 2500 mile tour.  The day before all this was to happen I went to the garage to get on my bike to ride to an appointment and nothing.  Wouldn’t start. Something to do with the key antennae.  Whatever.  Still wouldn’t start.

One of the great things about owning a BMW is that there’s an 800 number you call followed by a flatbed showing up less than 90 minutes later.  No charge.  Somewhere in there Dave heard about my problem.  His response was, “We’ll either have your bike ready to go or we’ll put you on a 2009 K-1300 S.”  And they did.  Drats.  I was looking forward to taking that orange beast out on the track.

Which leads me to a conversation I had with Dave just the other day.Continue reading

Dec 24

Conversation with Jerry Finley, The Man Behind Pirate's Lair

By kevin | Interviews

One of the very best parts about buying a new bike is researching all the farkles you just know you’ll need. Sometimes the treasure hunt leads you to familiar places, for example Touratech is always a first stop. Sometimes, and this is particularly true when you add a new marque to your stable, you find new sources of motorbike smack. That’s how I found Jerry Finley, who along with lovely Amber, keep watch over Pirate’s Lair, a dandy place to buy kit for your BMW bike.

What’s true about Jerry is true about everyone else I’ve interviewed in the business. Motorcycles and Motorcycling are something like an incurable itch, incurable to the point that folks like Jerry become convinced that they can do something better than anyone else. Maybe that’s making a thing, or maybe it’s selling a thing (in my case it was a conviction that I could write about it better than anyone else). Jerry does all three. That’s why I plagued him to tell me his story: It’s that passion that’s so interesting and makes hanging around with bikes and riders so compelling. And yes, I’ve bought a bunch of stuff from Jerry, and yes, I paid full retail, so don’t even think what you were thinking. He’s the real deal.

So here’s Jerry. Make sure you read the story about the Corvette . . .

Do the self introduction . . .

I’m Jerry Finley .. son of James… and along with my lovely wife, Amber I own and run Pirates Lair Motorcycle Accessories at All my friends call me Pirate. I design, manufacture, and sell specialty parts primarily for the K12 series BMW’s but I do make a few goodies for Ducati’s, Hondas, Yamahas, and MV Agustas. We were just recently voted the #1 place to buy K12 accessories in the US.

What attracts you to riding motorcycles?

Not sure… probably the same thing that attracts me to breathing… I ride, therefore I am. I do love meeting and talking to fellow motorcyclists. Motorcyclists (not bikers) are much more interesting than non-riders.

When did you ride your first motorcycle? What kind was it?

That’s easy. I remember as if it was yesterday. It was a sunny day in 1965. I, a skinny 10 year old, came home from school, threw down my books, packed a snack, and headed out to the garage to get my bicycle for my daily “adventure” exploring the back roads of Nashville.

When I got to the garage…beside my bike, there was my father leaning over and polishing a shiny new Yamaha. I can recall his first words as if it was yesterday.. “Wanna go for a ride?” I remember him smiling then coolly getting on..kicking it to life.. me climbing up behind him and wrapping my little fingers around his thick waist. He grasped my hands, leaned around and said …”hang on”. The very minute we pulled out of the driveway I remember thinking… I hope this ride NEVER ends. At that EXACT moment…I knew I was a motorcyclist for life.

What was the first bike you owned?

It was a Sears 106.. Yes.. sold by Sears back in 1970.. made by Jawa. Loved that piece of crap single. Put about 10K on it before I was broad sided… put me in the hospital for nine MONTHS.. Broken up pretty bad. Almost died, but amazingly I was saved by a young doctor who had just returned from ‘Nam.. a trauma expert. Woman pulled left in front of me.. Her fault. Sued and 2 years later won enough to cover all my hospital bills and buy me a brand new Honda CB750. Wish they had had rider ed back then..

What do your ride now?

Currently own a 2006 BMW K1200S and a 2008 Ducati 1098S. My track bike is a 2006 Special Edition Yamaha R1

What bikes have you owned?

I think this list pretty much covers them..The years might be slightly off..bad memory.. too many drugs.

72′ Honda CB750
79′ Honda CBX
81′ Kawasaki 1000LTD
82′ Honda V45 Sabre
84′ Kawasaki GPZ 750 Turbo
91′ Suzuki 750 Katana
98′ BMW K1200RS
03′ MV Agusta F4
03′ Ducati ST3
06′ BMW K1200S
06′ Special Edition Yamaha R1
08′ Ducati 1098S

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done on a motorcycle?

Everything is cool on a motorcycle…Had lots of adventures… lots of near death experiences.. Too many to waste time on. One interesting experience I had might entertain… I swear it’s true…

Years ago.. when the earth was young .. It was a hot, mid-summer Nashville night and I couldn’t sleep. Decided to take my Kawasaki 750 Turbo (then the fastest bike on the planet) for a midnight ride around town on the interstate loop. In the summer it’s about the only time of day you can ride in Nashville and not melt.

There were almost no cars as I recall and at that time of night . While on the far side of town I was all alone on the interstate except for a lone car waaay up ahead.. As I got closer I could see that it was a Corvette. He’s in the fast lane far to the left of the 4 lane section. As I get a little closer I see that it’s a T-top with the top wide open and on the passenger side of the car I see long blond hair billowing out the right side window and the top. I mean.. looong blond hair. Sweet.

My first thought was.. It‘s gotta be a babe. So what to do?? Plan formulated, I’m going to coolly come up on them…pull up along side.. kinda close.. glance over ..perhaps wink to the obviously beautiful blond who must be riding with the chump.. then light up the turbo and let them see it’s godlike power…Vette guys were always posers anyway.. Who better than I to humiliate him in front of his babe than myself?

So.. I slowly close in on them …I pull up alongside dead even with the car matching their speed … closer than I should have but I wanted to get a good look at the girl…I glance over and… I am about 5ft away and eye to eye with a full grown male lion which instantly roared so loud that it scared me 2 full lanes over and almost off the road.. GEEZUS!!

I did NOT look back as I felt so stupid…just fired up the turbo and was gone.. No idea if the lion was impressed or not.. and No… I was not on drugs that particular night…

[Me: Holy shit!]

If you could ride your bike one more time, one more place, anywhere in the world, where would that be?

Swiss Alps or Sonora Pass in California

If someone handed you a blank check and said buy a motorcycle, what would you buy?

Fortunately I usually buy any bike that I want.. life is good..Hmm.. Probably the Desmodeci Ducati..


Can you tell the story about how you got involved in your business? What did you do before? What was the inspiration/motivation?

Oddly enough.. my biz came together like a perfect storm.. I was in the printing/publishing biz for 25 years.. hated it so I quit. Made some money as a freelance journalist for a few motorcycle and scuba publications.. Also a photographer for a few years. Loved that but the money wasn’t conducive to the extravagant lifestyle I so richly deserved so I decided to try something different.

Left the country and lived in Guatemala for a while. Wrote for a Guatemala English speaking paper for a year, but that didn’t work out so back to the USA I came without a job and only $1000 in my bank account. What to do? I decided to start a new biz from scratch doing something I loved… So began Pirates Lair Motorcycle Detailing service based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Within a year I not only had the business of virtually every bike shop in the area, but also many country music stars. During this same time, I bought my first BMW.. a 98 K1200RS. Fell in love with it but immediately realized nobody made any accessories for it so I designed some things myself…

At about the EXACT same time, internet chat sites were popping up around the country and I came across A site made up of fellow K1200RS riders. I posted a few pics of my bike (with my custom made accessories) and immediately was flooded with requests for my products and requests for other items… I sold my goodies the best I could out of my garage.

To make the perfect storm complete.. a buddy of mine .. a designated computer geek, suggested I learn HTML so I could build a website to sell my custom BMW products in a more professional way. He offered personal tutelage if I supplied an endless supply of beer. Pabst Blue Ribbon. .. I took him up on it and took to it like a junkie to crack. As it turned out.. all my experience in the printing and publishing industry combined with my knowledge of writing and photography were EXACTLY the knowledge I needed to produce a successful website/business. I couldn’t have scripted it better. The rest is history. Now we are the #1 K1200 accessory site in the universe selling to every country in the world (except Indonesia.)

What products excite you the most?

I’m a big fan of leather suits or jackets and helmets. I’m always looking for a new model or style..I’m a sucker for cool looking riding gear. It’s a curse.

What product do you see on the market that most needs to be redesigned? Or designed?

We manufacture a few backrests for bikes like the ST1300, the FJR1300, and quite a few BMW’s only because Honda, Yamaha, and BMW doesn’t. I’ve always wondered why they don’t as all these bikes are generally two-up machines and virtually every buyer would want a backrest as an option..?? This has always baffled me although it’s good for us as we sell them by the truckload. Liability issues?

Also.. I see motorcycles getting too complex for mortals to work on. The new BMW’s are so complex that you can’t even add accessory lighting to some of them without triggering dash warning lights. If these bikes break down you have no choice but have it towed to a dealer.. Sad. I see the Japanese and Italians slowly sliding down this slope with traction control and hp output devices.. Not good. Sooner or later they’ll be like cars… Nobody but professional mechanics will be able to work on them.

[Me: Agree, agree, agree.]

Who are your typical customers? Demographics? Likes. Dislikes?

Generally between 35-60.. upper middle-class. Lots of professionals and retirees… and oddly enough a large percentage are pilots. Most of our customers are anti-cruiser. Serious riders concerned with safety and serious riding.

When you love your business, what is it you love?

I love sleeping late. and I love sleeping with the boss’s wife. Getting to write off all the rallies and track days I attend on my taxes is just icing on the cake.

When you think going into business was nuts, what drives you nutty?

When biz is good.. which is about 9 months out of the year I find myself working 14 hour days.. Not healthy for the body or soul. However. it’s still better than working 8-10 hours for somebody else. I’m paying my dues now in hope that it’ll pay off in the long run..

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing motorcycling?

Motorcycles are slowly being legislated off the road.. I hear about mandatory speed control devices being discussed in Europe. Horsepower is already limited in one or two countries. Factory programmed GPS units that alert law enforcement that the rider has broken speed laws should be on some bikes within the next 3-4 years. If that doesn’t reek of “big brother” .. I don’t know what does.

In Denver they just passed a law that ALL after market exhausts are illegal. Florida has just passed laws giving motorcyclists $1000 fines for speeding or even improperly mounted license plates. The lone protector of motorcyclists rights is the toothless AMA. Insurance companies are actually banning some bikes from coverage and/or putting them on “scary bike” lists. This does not bode well for street riders when the manufacturers are pouring gas on the fire by pumping out faster and more powerful bikes year after year without suggesting/offering comprehensive training for it’s potential customers. Something needs to be done, yet nobody is doing a damn thing.

IMHO.. sooner or later, street riders will be legislated out of existence…forced off the streets and onto tracks.. Very sad.

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Jun 17

Conversation with Keith Ellis, Furygan Importer

By kevin | Interviews

I started wearing Furygan leathers last year. I bought them for several reasons.

* A friend was wearing them and I thought they looked good.
* They fit my shape and build well.
* I had read about them in a British motorcycle magazine.

Later I discovered that the importer, a man named Keith Ellis, lived about three miles from me. We got together over coffee to talk shop and swap stories.

Kevin: How did you decide to get involved with importing motorcycle gear?

Keith: I worked a number of years in construction, excepting about four years that I took off and went back to school, got a Philosophy degree. Not a lot of job opportunities there.

Working construction, where my job had evolved into managing a general contractor, I found that there were a few things that were inherent to job that that I was uncomfortable with. So I began looking for away of making some changes. I got to where I was only working 50 or 60 hours a week doing construction.

Kevin: Only?

Keith: [Laughing]. This is apparently more free time than I can be trusted with. I actually thought at first that I wanted to open a shop: a motorcycle shop. In the process of working out a business plan for that, I realized I was horribly undercapitalized for that type of venture. But I had made contact with some different people, because I wanted to find interesting products that other people didn’t have. For example, I made contact with the folks at Furygan. I made a trip to Germany to the INTERMOT show and met with them. We pretty much just agreed that we’d give it a try and see what happened. So I made a decision to start with apparel.

Kevin: So you had no background?

Keith: No, other than as an enthusiast with friends in the industry. I had some capital and I’m seeing a change in the U.S. Market. There are more people traveling on two wheels and maybe it’s just me, but I also started seeing more people who are really interested in wearing appropriate gear . . . but maybe not as interested in wearing a really flashy piece of protective gear. I thought I saw an opportunity in the market.

So I was looking for something that was high quality and nicely styled; something that crossed the line between protective and causal gear. Furygan is a good fit for me, and I for them, I think. They’re trying to expand, to push their company into new markets. We’re hoping to grow together here.

Kevin: How did you find out about Furygan?

Keith: Actually by reading European magazines.

Kevin: So you sort of settled on Furygan and you e-mailed you cabled and you called them? You said something, “I want come over and talk to you?”

Keith: Actually, what happened is, I contacted them via e-mail and they said, “Yes, we’re interested,” and we did almost no initial e-mail negotiation. I simply went to Germany and sat down with them.

Kevin: That’s just so cool . . .

Keith: There were some other people that I was meeting with as well, but pretty quickly I settled in with Furygan. So I spent at least two days, pretty solidly, talking with them about what it would be like to work together.

About Furygan

Kevin: What’s the story with Furygan? What’s their history?

Keith: It’s actually one of those really interesting European business stories. The founder of Furygan is Jacques Segura. The Segura family was in apparel manufacturing. In 1969, they opened a division that was focused on motor sports.

Jacques’ brother was put in charge of the new division. I don’t know all of the details other than they say that Jacques took exception to that decision, and that resulted in a lot of family turmoil. So, also in 1969, Jacques started Furygan.

He started with gloves, which is G-A-N-T in French. So, the name is a contraction of Fury and glove. The ending “T” was dropped leaving “Furygan”. The logo, with the Panther . . . the Panther was the symbol of Jacques paratrooper unit in World War II. He chose it in a wounded pose to express how he felt about his dealings with the family.

He manufactured high-end gloves and actually sky diving leather helmets to start with. He went pretty quickly into suits and, actually, in the mid 70’s he sponsored a lot of world-class riders, Patrick Pons, Christian Sarron, Agostini when he was on the number 1 plate at Yamaha. In ’77, when Steve Baker became the first American to win a World Championship, he was wearing Furygan Leathers.

Kevin: That is so French.

Going to Market

Kevin: How are you going to market?

Keith: It’s my intention to add some new apparel products. I added Motto Bike Wear, a Kevlar lined jean from Poland, this spring. I do have a couple of hard part manufacturers that I’m talking with as well to diversify a little bit of what I have. And, yeah, and continue to try to offer what I think are fairly unique and high quality products that might fill a different segment of the market.

I think this has been a real change in the way the American motorcyclist looks at protective gear in the last decade, and I do think that some of the larger brand, less expensive products that are out there have a lot of the responsibility and credit for that.

You know, it wasn’t that long ago that you had a choice between wearing just casual gear or really high-end, designated race sort of gear. Manufacturers have become really good at introducing products to the market that fulfill some basic requirements for riding gear that are more affordable and offer people some choices.

The flip side of that is that as we rolled out this gear that offered some protections but was much more affordable, we’ve seen the market go more and more in that direction. But now I think there’s an opening for some more high quality gear. Maybe it’s a consequence of my age. I’ve reached the point where I can afford a fairly nice and relatively quick motorcycle, and also realized that I had that opportunity because my ability to work was my best asset. And so, I also needed to protect myself as a rider.

There are parts of this country that when it gets hot you’ll see a guy with either no helmet, or a novelty helmet, and no shirt, and shorts and flip-flops.

Kevin: Yup. I remember riding like that when I was young and dumb.

Keith: I don’t know. I’ve just kinda reached a point where the first thing I think is “skin graft.” And I think that we have a lot of people now that are taking that attitude about riding and they want to be able to ride and they want to be able to be calculated about their risks. I may not always be the smartest rider but I understand the risks and I’m prepared for it.

Kevin: You go to shows? You’re calling on dealers? What are you doing?

Keith: I’m doing a lot of calling dealers. I don’t do a lot of shows. I have a website that’s badly in need of updating that I get some hits off it. The unfortunate thing is that I have yet to figure out what I feel is a really clean way to handle sizing and fit. Each of the jackets has a slightly different cut. The size is pretty consistent in the shoulders. But I need to get a good chart and a good way to find measurements for people so that they can consistently fit. It’s really my goal to have Furygan available to fit in person for each major metro area.

Kevin: Do you do any direct business at all?

Keith: If I don’t have a retailer close to somebody, I’m happy to sell retail.

Kevin: What kind of dealers are you looking for?

Keith: My initial thought was that the people who would be familiar with the brand would be more likely to be in a Euro dealer. In Europe, obviously Euro bikes are all over the place, and it’s not just the guys riding the expensive bikes that are buying Furygan, in part because they have a different attitude towards gear in the first place. As a British friend of mine says, it’s common to see a guy on a thousand pound ($2,000) motorcycle with 1500 pounds ($3,000) in gear. That’s because he knows it’s really easier to replace that $2000 bike, but, you know, it’s not easy to keep…

Kevin: Yeah. I’m the most expensive part of this thing.

Keith: Yeah. I’m the hardest part to replace.

Waxing Philosophical

Kevin: How old are you?

Keith: 39.

Kevin: So you’re sort of, at the beginning of the middle.

Keith: Yeah. Right about the time I got to be 33, 34, 35, I started to accumulate some assets. I had worked a lot and I had, you know, a grown up sort of life. One of the things that I realized is that regardless of the passion that I still have for some aspects of what I’ve done in construction, that the things that aren’t well suited for me create enough discomfort that it outweighs the things I’m passionate about.

One of the life changing things for me was my son being born. I have a 5-year-old son, which is, you know, usually the time when people cast off their motorcycles. I mean, everybody knows how many bikers you see that are getting married, having a child, buying a house, and selling their bikes. Well, I’d already done the whole marriage and divorce thing, then a committed relationship, and bought a house, and when my son came along, I really started to think about how it was that I was going about my life and recognized some things that had happened in my parents’ lives.

My stepfather, who I pretty much grew up with, had actually been a Motocross and Enduro racer from ’61 ‘till about 1976. He had a fairly bad crash that broke a leg. He told me that every time he started after that he thought about it, and that was why he quit racing.

But the year that he turned 50, he put together one of the old motorcycles and got involved with racing again. That would’ve been after I started to grow up and had moved out of the house. But I was able to watch the change in the entire family dynamic when my stepfather started to resume doing something that he really enjoyed. And I realized that I didn’t want my son to grow up watching me do all of the things that I felt like I was obligated to do without any passion.

Kevin: That’s a pretty big insight.

Keith: That’s actually one of the reasons for doing business with Furygan, a family owned company. I joke that I selected this product that was founded on resentment, but it was also founded on emotional passion. I think that they still carry a lot of that passion for riding into their apparel. And I want to continue to carry products that work to innovate and that work to bring that passion. I mean let’s face it, we can all take public transportation or ride bicycles, and that’s great, economically and ecologically. That’s a great decision to make, but, you know, I’m just not really passionate about it.

I had also reached a point in my life where I had some assets that I was willing to risk . . . that I was more willing to risk in order to build something than I was to, you know, go work as a lot boy in a dealership just to spend my time around motorcycles.

A lot of the market, particularly in apparel here, is very price conscious. But the fact is price has no passion. Price is about counting what’s left over, and so I really wanted to deal with products with passion. And thought there was an opportunity for a small distributor that was more “boutique” oriented.

Kevin: I’ve done a lot of interviews in this project that I’ve been working on, and there are two themes that come screaming out. There’s actually many, but two come to mind. One is, and you’ve mentioned both of them, there are a lot of stories like the one that you told about your step-dad. Connections between men and their fathers over riding. Another story that comes up in a really big way is the story of the first bicycle, often with a powerful connection to the dad, often who brought home some piece of crap, and in the process of transforming this thing…

Keith: Yeah, my first motorcycle was one that my stepfather assembled for me from the bikes that he’d never gotten rid of. I was 13, and it was a ‘69 Maico 125 Motocross bike, in a 250 frame because it was heavier…

Kevin: Yeah.

Keith: … and it was orange. And, to this day, I have a thing for orange.

Kevin: Of course you do. And so, he transmogrified this right in front of your eyes.

Keith: Yeah. I didn’t have the smoothest childhood in general, and my adolescent years were particularly problematic for anybody in very close proximity. In my early 20’s, I realized that I’d had some fairly big life changing experiences. I realized that I had an opportunity to redefine and rediscover my relationships, particularly and specifically with my family, and that as a young adult, I had the opportunity to make the decision to let everything be passed and to start fresh and to meet my entire family on equal terms as adults and to not worry about anything else that had happened.

Part of that ended up being my stepfather, and he and I obviously communicate regularly about motorcycles. That was the beginning. That was the little common thread that we had and that was the point to build a relationship from. And it’s been just a great deal of fun for me. I go ride in the dirt with him periodically.

You know, my son wants to ride. He said that this summer he wants to have his own motorcycle, which of course thrills me. I’ve tried not to put everything on it but he, you know, he watches and he knows.

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May 24

Conversation with Gary B

By kevin | Interviews

I met Gary at a conference. I was doing a keynote on story telling and showed some pictures of me on motorcycles and mentioned my deep interest and miscellaneous ramblings on these vary pages. Gary tracked me down and we wound up having an email conversation.

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing. I love your varied background . . . salesman, artist, tennis instructor . . . so tell me about some of that. I’ve got a slightly less varied, but definitely varied, background as well, so I’m always interested in folks who make big moves along the way.

I’m currently a National Account Manager for Kone elevator/escalator company. I’ve always been interested in art, athletics, and in how things work. In High school I took the vocational ed path in drafting because I got to take welding, metal shop and architectural drafting which I thought was fun.

I started at Mississippi State as an architecture major. After a semester of total BS (have you ever listened to what architects really say?) I changed to commercial art and graduated with a degree in that.

While at State, I wasn’t quite good enough for a scholarship in tennis, but they let me practice with them. That was incredible fun and I greatly improved my game. I helped put myself through school by teaching tennis lessons. Great summer and part time work for a college guy.

After I graduated in 1979, I worked for Dover elevator as a Graphic artist in their training dept putting together slide shows and presentations. This was in the days before computers, so all artwork was hand done, camera ready work. I had an opportunity to move into their sales dept and eventually was the Branch Manager for them in Macon, GA. I moved back to Mississippi in 1997 with Kone and in 2001 started in their National accounts dept.

I have a wonderfully supportive wife. We’ve been married 26 years and have a 22 year old son who is a senior at Mississippi College. He is on a tennis scholarship and will graduate in December 2008 with a degree in Business administration. we also have two horses, one black cat and one Australian Blue Heeler named Cobber.

Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it? For me, it was a very large, very second hand bicycle my dad fixed up and painted red. Later I realized it was really quite small.

It was a Sears 24″ standard. When the “Spider Bike” craze hit, My Brother and I modified ours with high rise handle bars and banana seats. And there was also the custom krylon paint job.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

I think it was on a Cushman scooter that our neighbor bought in the 60’s. We weren’t rich growing up but I rode all my friends’ bikes. The best was an Elsinor 125.

What was the first bike you owned?

The first one I bought was a 1984 Honda Ascot V twin 500cc. Great little bike: water-cooled, 6 speed, drive shaft. Pretty peppy. Put many miles on it.

How many bikes have you owned?

Five so far.

1984 Honda Ascot VT 500, 1991 Honda Nighthawk 750, 1984 V65 Sabre (Had for about 12 years . . . one of my favorites. Fantastic motor early sport tourer), 1987 BMW K75T (still have and ride it when I can get my son off of it) and a 2004 BMW K1200GT I really like those “Brick” motors.

How many bikes have you ridden?

Don’t really know. Lots from Harleys to mopeds to various Hondas, Kawasakis and BMW’s.
How many miles do you expect to ride this year? Doing what? I will do most of my miles on an FJR in big chunks. I also have a go-fast bike that is mostly for track riding. Not much in between.

Not as many as I would like but probably around 6-8000, mostly on weekend trips. The K 1200 GT is a recent addition so I hope to put most of the miles on it. I’m odd in that I don’t really like the large rallys. I always tell people that I ride a bike to get away from the crowds. I do enjoy riding in small groups though. A friend describes me as a motorcyclist not a biker. I call myself the anti-biker biker.

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now? Casual? Fanatic?

Fanatic. Just ask my wife

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

I’ve always liked the go fast things: Cars, boats, bikes, airplanes. Bikes allow me to escape the normal everyday pressures and be alone with myself. I’ve tried listening to music when riding, but to me it’s annoying. I love to hear all the mechanical goings on in the motor and trans as you wind it up or just high speed cruising on the interstate. I like tinkering and modifying the bike to suit my ergos. (I’m 6′-6″) It’s all fun and it puts a smile on my face.

I know you’re married, was it something you discussed? Were there issues? Were there deals made?

No deals made. My wife understands that it’s something I love and is supportive. She is the one that suggested that I buy the K1200GT.

Does she ride with you? Or perhaps wants nothing to do with it?

She rides with me on occasion.  But she says a horse would be her first choice.

What do you think about when you ride?

Everything. I listen to the bike and think about how smooth everything is working. I think about the scenery and how beautiful and fragile it is. I also think about where do I fit in. Lately, I guess it’s age showing, but I’ve given a lot of thought about will it have really mattered that I have lived and died on this planet. Will any one care? [Me: I know exactly what you’re talking about!]

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

Well I went down about two years ago at @ 45mph. It was a very hot south Mississippi day and the tar was weeping up out of the asphalt. As you know, when you lose all traction you go down. I had on all the right equipment and only had a small skinned place on each knee and one elbow where the pad in my jacket shifted. That said, everything in life worthwhile is dangerous in some way. But you can help your self by being prepared.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

You don’t have to have the biggest, newest, fastest bike out there, even if it does get great reviews on the internet. [Me: It is amazing how people get twisted up in what are really inconsequential differences, isn’t it? Having said that, it’s not difficult to tell yourself you need one of everything.]
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

Rode the Natchez Trace from Natchez to Nashville with a close friend that I grew up with. We used to ride bicycles together as kids. 420 miles of National Park with no stop signs, red lights, or commercial traffic.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

The Old General Store, Lorman, MS. just north of Port Gibson. Best Fried Chicken in the world and great rural roads to ride to get there.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

I think I just bought it. An early BMW K1200GT with the “brick” motor. My wife just commented that she would like me to have a BMW 1200 GS adventurer all tricked out so we could climb mountains if we wanted to. [I felt the same when I bought my FJR and again when I bought my Aprilia. When I was agonizing over the priller, it was between the one I bought and a used one that seem so much more sensible given that it was and is a fundamentally silly bike. Someone said something like, “If you’re not going to buy the one that really lights you up, why bother? Amen on the GS.]

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May 18

Conversation with Ted Bishop

By kevin | Interviews , Rants and Raves

Ted Bishop wrote one of my new favorite books, a wonderful contemplation on riding and more called Riding with Rilke (I reviewed it here).

[amtap book:isbn=0393330745]

He and I started up a fun correspondence and I persuaded him to opine on some of my own musings about the metaphysics of riding.

You are a professor of . . .

I’m a professor of English. I started out working on the British modernists – James Joyce, Virginia Woolf – got interested in small presses, book production, dust jackets, advertising, and now ink.

Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it?

My first bicycle had training wheels and solid tires and I remember it was harsh as I hit cracks in the sidewalk. I guess this was good preparation for riding a Ducati Monster on bad roads.

What do you think about when you ride?

In traffic and early in the season I’m completely focussed on the riding. As I get back into riding mode, reacquiring not just motor skills but the motorcycle mindfulness that allows you to monitor everything, I think about all kinds of stuff, often mentally writing the impressions of the trip. I never listen to music.

How do you think about the “danger” part? In your book you relate a pretty horrific crash. Do you think differently about riding as a result?

I do think differently about riding – in fact I can’t daydream about riding the same way I used to, and when walking toward the motorcycle I’m always a little bit afraid. That stays with me as I start the bike, even as I click it into gear, but as soon as I’m moving and my feet lift onto the pegs the fear disappears.

First thoughts that come to mind . . . why do you ride? Transportation? Zen? Freedom?

“Freedom” has always seemed too abstract a concept to me. I never think about being free, but my friend Steve Alford (who with his wife Suzanne Ferris has written a book about motorcycle culture) talks about “flow” and I think that’s what attracts me. I don’t attack the road; I like rides that are as smooth as those Dairy Queen soft-ice cream cones that curve seamlessly out of the machine.

[amtap book:isbn=1861893450]

I’ve asked a lot of people the “why do you ride question.” Lord knows it’s been written about from every possible angle. I have some themes bubbling in my head that I would love you to comment on. They relate particularly to riders in mid-life. The themes aren’t as well developed as I would like and tend to fold back on each other. They have no relevance to the Vietnamese city dweller who rides a scooter as transportation. So it’s riders by choice, not by necessity.

Personal philosophy? No. In high school I came up with, “In the muddy road of life there are many potholes,” but that hasn’t applied. I’ve come to believe very much in luck, and that for no good reason I seem to be lucky.

1. Connecting to Lost Childhood and First Magic

Men particularly have powerful memories of their first bicycle. In many cases, the story involves their dad at his best. He is some combination of Prometheus or perhaps Jason and the Fleece, bearing an impossibly fabulous gift of mobility beyond imagination and measure. The young boy or girl’s personal horizon suddenly expands beyond the house and yard to the neighborhood and beyond. Sometimes way beyond. It is one of the early, and maybe first, real feelings of freedom. You can just get on it and go.

For many, there is also a story involving putting the thing together, or perhaps taking apart a beater and transforming and transmuting it into something new and wonderful: Father as Alchemist; the boy’s first exposure to the philosopher’s stone.

Years later, this same man or woman finds himself living a life without magic, a life without freedom as it was first experienced all those years ago. A motorcycle holds the echoes of all those wonderful memories and feelings. Buying it and riding it resonates the lost boy. It connects the rider across time to a version of himself that years later seems locked in a state of bliss, at least while on that bike.

I know this is a story arc that’s explored in literature. You say what about this?

I hadn’t thought about the dad, but I think you’re right. I do remember getting a bike with real tires after the training wheel one, and how it took me so quickly away from the sight of the house. Then there were bike hikes with friends to the edge of town, where the city met the treed parkland and there was a creek, so yes expanded horizons.

2. The Heroic Journey

Joseph Campbell famously amplified the core elements of the mono-myth. I’m sure you’re familiar with it: the call; separation; first encounter with the extraordinary; the ultimate challenge; receipt of the boon; the return. Every civilization has these stories. They are meant to transmit what it means to be a member of the tribe; what it means to be an adult. They are also meant to signal the ultimate inward journey; Luke Skywalker entering the cave in Return of the Jedi, there to meet himself in the guise of Darth Vader.

You can barely walk by a motorcycle, much less own one, without dreaming about riding across some far horizon. You felt this tug; you did it. Owning a car has the same effect for some people under some conditions. Owning a bike lights the wick for everyone.

So the bike is both the call to journey and the means. The journey could literally take the form of a long ride, or it could just be a brief, attention riveting encounter with danger.

So the mid-life reader feels a tugging to go, to get away, to find something he/she doesn’t even know or understand. The important part is to ride out and see.

You say what?

I think the short riveting ride is completely different from the long ride. My long rides have always been solo and I always wind up packing up some stuff and sending it back home, so for me it’s about paring down, and it takes me three days to really feel that I’m out there.

In the 1930s my father and some friends made a 2-week trek through the mountains between Banff and Jasper, before the road went through. That became part of the family mythology, and though he didn’t talk about it a lot I had this sense when I was a child of my father perpetually trekking through the mountains. It was the thing that defined him. So, though I didn’t set out consciously to emulate him with my motorcycle trip I’m sure his “heroic journey” was at the back of it. But he’d always wanted to write, and hadn’t, and so my heroic journey, and one that I did think of as taking on a family tradition and extending it, was the writing of the book.

3. If Not Now, When?

My grandfather was a professor of modern languages at Cornell. He wrote his thesis somewhat late in his life about Cervantes and Don Quixote. In the introduction, he wrote . . .

“El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha is many things: a novel to delight the young, to instruct the mature, to solace the old. Above everything it is a call to live the good life because that life is worth leading; it is the only one possible for the magnanimous. When Cervantes wrote the Quijote he affirmed that a noble life can be lived only in terms of noble endeavor and that the worth of that life can only be measured by the ideals which guide it and not by the criteria of failure or success in attaining the ideals.

Intuitively we recognize that heroism is measured by what is attempted. The success or failure of the heroic action neither brightens nor dims the shining moment . . .

Don Quixote’s dreams of knight errantry are an extension of his vision of a world ruled by justice. He becomes a knight because he feels it is incumbent on him to give reality to his dream. When he realizes that the time to act has come, he acts. He does not delude himself into thinking that he can become a knight by proxy.”

To put this in historical context, Cervantes wrote towards the end of the time of the Inquisition: Spain’s counter reformation before there was a reformation. Many have interpreted the novel through the lens of the Cervantes’ relationship to the One True Church, regarding it as some sort of commentary on faith and reason (pro or anti Erasmus for example).

My grandfather, and you’d have to have known him, roundly rejects the then prevailing interpretations, arguing instead that Cervantes was a man who prized verisimilitude above all else, and that his masterpiece was not a commentary one way or another about the Church other than to poke at people who persisted in sitting on the sidelines making up rules and criticisms, whoever and wherever they were.

To some extent this references the previous theme, but there’s a different idea going on here. I see it as the imperative to take stock of your life and do what you mean to do while you still have the vigor.

A man spends the second season of life trying to find and make a place in the world: man as householder. He’s occupied with career, family, possessions, and power. There’s not much left over to contemplate purpose and meaning. And then one day he wakes up and wonders what he’s doing. Another version of this is waking up and feeling the burden of carrying all these big loads and now it’s time to do something for him. If not now, when?

So in the moments when the rider is alone in his helmet, jacket, and boots, riding with or without destination, he is the knight errant. He is a man who has put aside the desk and the rules of the world. He is leading the life of action.

By other means and passions might the man experience these same feelings. But there’s something unique about the bike. It’s the fact that his mother forbade him to ride, so he didn’t. And then his wife. And then his feeling of responsibility towards his children. And, and, and. And now at this balance point in life, with perhaps as much history behind as story ahead, the man says “enough.”

You say what?

From one DQ to another: Dairy Queen to Don Quixote. Absolutely. Yes, now.

Ted didn’t get around to addressing two final themes, but here they are for the record.

4. Facing Dragons

We all have different appetites for danger and excitement. This point is surely not exclusive to riding bikes. But it’s there. We tell ourselves all sorts of stories about uncertainties and risks, about preparation, gear, and training. But down inside, we want to face the dragon and see if we are up to it.

5. Living in your body

Men in particular grow up separating themselves from their bodies, from their intuition. That isn’t to say that we don’t do things, that we’re not physical, just that we don’t do a good job of integrating our heads and our hearts. We prize our thinking and thoughts. We tough it out when we hurt. We denigrate intuition to the point that we no longer feel its presence in ourselves. We think but we don’t feel.

This point isn’t exclusive to riding a bike, but it’s true about it . . . you can’t think your way around on a bike. When I ask riders what they think about when they ride, nearly all of them say nothing. That’s not true of course, but it’s what we want to be true. Yes I know, at times we write the great Canadian novel or work out complex dialogs with people that don’t exist while we ride, but we are always aware that it would be best to just be in that Zen state of mindful awareness. And at times we are and it is bliss.

In the same vein, every rider I’ve ever talked to has experiences with suddenly knowing something: don’t go down that road; slow down now; look over there; move over. Sometimes the intuition is headed; sometimes it isn’t. But everyone has these experiences. For some, it’s the only time they can remember this happening.

People who ride on a track, or ski, or doing activities requiring extended periods of linked actions report of “being in the zone.” Everything comes together in fluid harmony. The vision sharpens. Actions come without conscious thought. Breathing slows. Everything slows down. It is to brush up against the gods. And then it’s gone. But having felt it once, the body and soul are forever changed. We want it to happen again.

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Apr 21

Conversation with Carl Schelin

By kevin | Interviews

I met Carl (virtually) on a motorcycle forum. Think of him as your average, every day, mid-life motorcycle crazy. He agreed to answer my various questions. Lots of great thoughts about riding. He also has assembled one of the most impressive personal motorcycle sites you’ll ever find: loads of ride reports, maps, pictures, and more. Enjoy.

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing.

Hmm, first off I’m a gamer. I’ve been playing War games, Role playing games, Board games, Computer games and such since I was a kid. I got in to Dungeons and Dragons in 1976, about the same time I started riding motorcycles.

I’m an official computer geek. I’ve been doing stuff with computers since 1979 or so when I was plunked in front of a computerized typesetter while in The Army. Within 6 months I was teaching the guy who had originally manned it for 2 years how to do neat stuff and eventually streamlined the process, saving money and increasing productivity.

Combining D&D and computers is what got me in to the field. I wrote a few programs to help me with gaming. Not the graphic stuff you see nowadays but more gaming aids. Character generation, monitoring, and stuff like that.

(It’s important, bear with me 🙂 )

When I left The Army, I rambled through a couple of jobs. Selling cars and working as a security guard. In both cases, I was also working on computer programs to help make the jobs easier. I created a salesman’s tutorial. You’d enter in data from brochures and it’d “flashcard” you to help you memorize facts. I created a security program so you could quickly look up vehicle information on folks approaching your post.

From there I started getting jobs as a programmer. First assisting a surveyor with their programs, then working on funeral home software, and even a small program for a local political party (don’t recall who but it was a simple survey type program).

From programming I got to PC installation and LAN configuration. Then I administered LANs. Then started Unix administration.

Now I’m a Team Lead and Senior Unix Administrator for Intrado. The servers I manage are part of the country’s emergency 911 infrastructure including the Amber Alert system. I only worked here for 4 months and was given a raise because of my valuable contributions to the servers.

I have two daughters from my first marriage. The older one is a computer geek just like dad and lives in Portland Or. The younger one stepped away from computers and lives with her husband in Fredericksburg Va.

I met Rita online. She was living in Denver and I was in Virginia. We chatted, exchanged e-mails, and then got together. I flew out to Denver to visit, we met again in Florida, and then she moved in with me. We got married on Halloween, 2000. She has a daughter, also in Virginia.

Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it?

Oh yea. We were living in Chula Vista Ca. My first bicycle ride was short. I started going parallel with the curb, then swerved right to the opposite side of the street, wobbled around back to the other curb and ran straight into it going over the bars. My first highside 🙂

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

My uncle raced Bultaco’s and I lived with him and his family for a year. I was too chicken to get on the back of the bike because he was nuts, but was fascinated with it. He “gave” me a junker with “blown seals” (I had no idea what a blown seal was though). I sat on it but we never actually worked on the bike. When I rejoined my parents, I asked about a bike but they said “not in my house”.

After I got out of high school in 1976, I joined The Army. At my first post I wanted a bike. A friend of mine rode a Honda CB450/4 and offered to teach me how to ride. I don’t recall how we got my first bike to the abandoned barracks where Maurie was going to show me how to ride. He gave me some quick lessons on how to stay up and be safe.

After I got my license, I waved at him once and he gave me a piece of his mind on keeping both hands on the handlebars. I also attended the required post Defensive Driving Course taught by a Maryland State Motorcycle Police Officer. He did his best to scare the life out of all us riders with horrible pictures and stories.

What was the first bike you owned?

A Yamaha 250. After a couple of months, I was ready to buy my first brand new bike. I rode the Yamaha (which needed a tune up and was throwing a bunch of smoke) down to the dealer in Maryland and traded it for a Honda CB360T.

What do you own now?

2002 Suzuki Hayabusa
2001 Suzuki SV650S
1989 Honda TransAlp
1976 Honda CB750 (Chopper Project)

Wife has a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650 (I list it because I also ride it from time to time).

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

Including commuting and all my bikes, maybe 20,000 miles.

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now?

Learning and trying to help newer folks with the answers I’ve received and learned over the past few years. Planning long rides to great areas in the country (ours and Canada). Learning how engines and motorcycles in particular work (I’m doing my own wrenching for most everything).

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

Initially it was my Uncle Rod. He raced Bultaco’s, lived in a big Addams Family type house and had a hippy type lifestyle. Initially it was just because it was fun and inexpensive. My friends were riding and I liked being part of a group.

Now I ride because it’s a lot of fun and challenging. I ride year round in all sorts of weather. I tour all over the US and Canada including places people think a sport bike shouldn’t be riding.

There are times when I’m a little wiped out at work or home and get on the bike and the cares of the world are whisked away with the breeze.

Did you have to make any sort of deal with your wife?

Not really. We did have some discussion but I think she thought I wasn’t going to actually do it. She said she was afraid that I’d turn into one of the stereotypical Harley riders she sees riding around. I told my first wife and this one that I’d been riding before I met them and I was going to ride. She responded by getting a largish sized life insurance policy on me

The funny part is that she says I’m surprisingly safe on the motorcycle.

Does she ride with you?

She does ride on her own bike. She’s somewhat short and doesn’t like sitting on the back of the bike. She also has a back condition so her feet have to be at a precise angle with her pelvis and bouncing around on the back of the bike doesn’t really help. That’s the reason she started riding her own bike.

What do you think about when you ride?

When commuting, I’m generally either enjoying the view; the sun rising behind me and highlighting the Rockies can be awesome on some mornings, or trying to keep some yahoo from running me over while they’re yakking on their cell phone. Sometimes I’m thinking about work or an upcoming event or ride.

When touring, my mind generally swirls in work and home related stuff for a day or two, then it settles down in to looking around, checking the gas tank, enjoying the road and music, and all the stuff that goes along with touring.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the ‘dangerous’ part about riding?

I’m very conscious of how risky it is to ride. I wear an Aerostich one piece textile suit or Alpinestars one piece leather suit (when on the track), full face helmet, gloves, and ankle high Harley Storm boots. I have a 132db air horn on the Hayabusa and use a headlight modulator. I read forums and dissect accident reports to see how I would have reacted in those situations. In general, my riding doesn’t fall into the majority of motorcycle accidents I’ve read about. I’m aware that one of the biggest problems is the inattentiveness of cagers and the inability of them to see bike riders. I have the headlight modulator and air horn to help with that. I pay particular attention when approaching danger zones such as where folks will turn left in front of you. I adjust lane position to be the most visible. Most of the time I make an effort to get out of traffic clumps so I’m not in a position of danger. In riding, I’m always scanning; looking at drivers, making sure I don’t sit in their blind spots if possible and being extra aware when I’m forced to. I always look around to see where the next problem might come from.

It sounds like I’m spending all my time alert for the slightest danger. But really all that takes a very small part of my riding thoughts. I’ve been surprised a few times, for example recently I was surprised when a driver who was slowing down in the left turn lane decided he didn’t want to be at that light and pulled back in to traffic. I was able to slow down without incident in part because I was paying attention. Even though it was a surprise, my constant scanning for trouble had me reacting quickly and out of danger before it was a problem.

I guess in general I’m just very aware and try not to worry about the risks involved. My wife says I’m very optimistic and act like it’ll all work out in the end 🙂

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

TRAINING! Training training training training training.

Even if you’ve ridden a lot before, things change. When I started riding again (Harley Softail), I was surprised by the number of close calls just in the first 6 weeks and there were 2 or 3 incidents where if I wasn’t paying attention, I might not be here now. A friend who was riding pulled me aside and said that I was riding wrong, even though it was right when I stopped riding.

The Defensive Driving Class (required for riding on the Army Post) back in 1976 stressed staying to the left of the lane and away from the cars so you had time to react. But nowadays, cagers are even more distracted than they used to be and you need to be a little less defensive and a little more offensive. My friend pointed out that I should be riding in the right side of the lane, closest to the cage in the lane to the right. Because as long as you’re watching, the guy in front of you isn’t going to affect you. Same with the guy behind. I can’t tell you the number of times in riding that I’ve seen cars move over to the shoulder because of suddenly stopped traffic. If you’re on the left, that leaves you open to being hit. But the biggest danger is the inattentive cager to your right. Stay behind his rear bumper so he has a chance of seeing your headlight in his mirror and when you pass, pass aggressively.

Take the Basic Riders Course. Then the Experienced Riders Course. Then look in to some of the schools that are probably in your area. Here in Denver there’s a school that for $250 or so will take you to the next level in riding.

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

For a first bike, something small and light, so you can be confident and think about other things. And used. Even folks getting back in to riding should get a smaller used bike to start. There’s always someone behind you waiting for you to get familiar and when you’re comfortable, you can move up to a larger bike.

My wife decided to go with a Honda Shadow VLC when she started riding because of the seat height. It was her second bike. After wobbling around and even crashing it once, she moved to one of the larger scooters (Aprilia Atlantic) and eventually a Honda Metro. We attended a Sport-Touring.Net national meet in Colorado and one of the lady riders came down from Seattle on a Honda Interceptor (250cc). Rita started checking out the sport bike side of the house and found a Kawasaki Ninja on Craigslist. Even though the Ninja has a taller seat, it’s narrower so she could still flat foot and it’s light so she could concentrate on riding and not on trying to keep it up. In just one season on the 250cc Ninja, her confidence raised up significantly and now she’s on a Ninja 650 and sometimes I have to zip up to catch her

After that, it’s whatever fits your style of riding. I’ve ridden the Harley around the country and found my back didn’t like the seating position. I had the Goldwing and again, my back hated it. I rode around quite a bit on a GSXR750 and ride my SV650 and neither are really meant for any sort of distance. The best one for me has been the Hayabusa with Heli-bar risers. It’s been the most comfortable of the bikes I’ve ridden over the years. My back isn’t jarred by road bumps and with the risers, I’m not leaning on my wrists.

I’m not saying folks just getting back in to the game should get a Hayabusa or Ninja ZX14 but something that’s comfortable for you. For me it took a few bikes before I found it.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

Last year my wife talked me out of taking the Hayabusa up to Alaska by letting me get the SV650. I bought it with the intention of doing some track riding. I’ve been learning how to ride better on the Hayabusa and getting more speed out of corners with more stability and control (I’d read the Total Control book). I tried taking it to the track but for the smaller track that’s available to me here in Denver (a go cart track really), the Hayabusa was a tad heavy. The first time I took the SV650 on the track, I got my knee down all the way around the track. Not only was I excited about it, a friend from the local group was there taking pictures and he got several so I have nice memories as well.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

There are just so many great places to ride, it’s hard to really pick a good single destination. And experience would depend on what you are excited about. Some places I’ve been since I got back on two wheels:

  • Jasper/Banff National Park in Canada
  • Labrador Canada
  • Apache Highway in Arizona
  • Rt 44 in West Virginia
  • Mt. Washington and Mt. St Helens in Washington
  • Coast Highway, north of San Francisco
  • Rt 149 in Western Colorado
  • Peak to Peak Highway in Colorado
  • Glacier National Park in Montana

Basically just explore. Break out your map book and go ride.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

I like my Hayabusa. At the moment, I’d just get another one. When I told my wife I was approaching 68,000 miles on the ‘busa, she said “well, it’s about time for another bike then.” I told her that instead, I’d rather refurbish the Hayabusa and maybe put in a “stage one kit”. Something to soup it up just a little.

Busa on the road

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Mar 23

Conversation with FJRobert: A boy with a cushman, combat veteran, long distance rider

By kevin | Interviews

FJRobert told me his story in one long sweeping email. I continue to be impressed, and this may come from some sort of archetypal father/son longing, with stories of boys and their dads and the first bicycle. Robert’s tale of building his first bike with his dad echoes so many others I know of. There is magic in the retelling because there is magic in remembering, even if it’s just a a collective memory.

I am a bit younger than Robert so I don’t have any personal connection to the old Cushmans, but I know a lot of guys do. And in another collective echo, Robert did what nearly every guy has done before and since: he customized it, putting a bigger motor in it and feeling the rush of piloting it to 60 mph, no doubt winding that 8-hp motor to the absolute max.

Finally, before turning this over to Robert, let me also draw your attention to the picture he included of himself standing on the saddle of his Harley. It’s painful to look at, not because it’s such an obviously dumb thing to do, but because of the story it wants to tell of a man home from a war that took so much from so many.

Truly and really finally, make sure you look at the photo of young Robert in SE Asia all the way at the end of this. If you remember the times at all, you’ll find it hard not to stare.

My first brush with owning two wheels was during the time of the Schwinn Stingrays. My Dad decided we could build one (cheaper) together from an old girls type bike. We proceeded to strip it down and apply Orange paint (My choice) and add the upright handlebars and Stingray seat. Man did that set me free! I could now roam a greater distance with my friends.

I lived in Torrance, CA at the time there was a large field across the street where the kids in the neighborhood built a track with small jumps and obstacles. Several years later I got a bike that had 10 gears! And hand brakes! I could really fly now. I remember doing “stoppies” at around 12-13 years old until one day I clamped on the brake and flipped it over, landing on my back in the middle of the street! Lost some of my bravery for a while after that . . .

One day when I was five or six a friend of my Dad’s came over on a Cushman scooter and took me for a ride. Talk about holding on tight and wind in your face! This was heaven! Also, by this time, a motorcycle club had moved into some old water type tanks in the field across the street, cutting doors into the sides. Of course I was told to stay away but really loved the loud bikes and bon fires at night.

My first real motorcycle ride was on a Harley Dresser that one of my Dad’s friends from work came over on. This was around 1958 (I was about 8). I remembered the thrill of the scooter ride and when he asked me if I’d like a ride I hopped on. Again, There was this awesome feeling of the wind in my face and a certain amount of danger like I had on the scooter only much more intense. I was hooked and knew what I wanted to have as transportation when I could get a drivers license.

Moving to Oklahoma

Due to my parents getting divorced I wound up with my Mom and Sister in Oklahoma City the summer of 1963. It was a rather traumatic experience leaving all my relatives and friends behind, leaving the beach where I had just started surfing after many years of tubes and boogie boards, to now be in the land of cowboys and Indians!

My Stepfather wound up being pretty cool. He was Cherokee Indian and had started in the Navy as an E-1. When he passed away he was a Commander in the Reserves! Pretty impressive if you think about it.

I came home from school on my 14th birthday and there was a like-new five horsepower black Cushman scooter! My life (at that time) was complete! My own motorcycle! During the next couple of weeks I went down and took the test to have a daylight only, under 10 hp bike license. Taking the ride around the parking lot to show the tester I could control that Cushman it put my heart in my throat. I had passed the written test and this was going to get me on the street if I completed it without problems. And I passed!

This was the beginning of my riding all the free time I had. I rode that scooter to school and then on the dirt roads south of town with another friend who had a bike. There is nothing like the freedom and feeling of controlling your own ride while having the wind in your face! I would stay out until dinner or dark whichever came first. It was such an escape for me. I no longer felt depressed about leaving CA. I had the world to ride!

I found some guys that had built a little oval dirt track and began trying to go faster and faster. It was evident I did not have nearly enough motor for this.

Stepping up to more power

My step dad’s brother worked at the airport and had an 8 hp Cushman industrial engine, new on the shelf. I made a deal with him and saved enough money to purchase it. As always my step dad said, “Do it yourself, that’s how you learn.” I pulled the motor out of the bike and put the new one in. Holy Cow! A turn of the throttle and the acceleration was so good I could barely hold on! I remember thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” I could get out on the highway and open it up, doing almost 60 mph winding out first before shifting into high gear (it had a two-speed tranny). It didn’t have enough power to go any faster in high, but to me, it just felt so powerful I knew all was right in the world.

My step dad owned an oil field pipe and supply company. He told me he would match dollar for dollar all the money I saved towards a new bike. I worked after school and weekends cleaning pipe threads and loading and unloading pipe from flatbeds with a “gin” truck. Finally I had enough money and went down and traded the Cushman for a new 80cc Yamaha.

The Yamaha opened a whole new world to me with its better handling and performance. I saved and put a set of Pirelli tires on it for street and dirt. I was now able to fly around the track compared to the Cushman.

Another side benefit was being able to go farther in the limited daylight hours. I soon became one of the better riders around our “group,” whether it was in the dirt or on the street.

I kept working and saving money and soon bought a twin cylinder 100cc Yamaha around 1965. I again put Pirelli tires on it and had a set of expansion chambers made for it along with adding a number plate and removing lights. I found a way to ride side streets to high school.

When I turned 16 I got my real drivers license and a 1957 Chevy. I saved and put five-spoke mag wheels on it and had it painted Orange. Now I could pull a small trailer and take my bike around to different tracks and race! The best I ever did was second place but really enjoyed scrambles and short track racing during high school. As an aside, I would recommend anyone wanting to ride motorcycles to begin on the dirt with a small bike where you will learn more about control than you ever could on the street. A Motorcycle Safety Foundation or equivalent course would be the next step. Those without experience and/or training are rolling a set of loaded dice when they put a leg over a bike.

Home from Vietnam

(crazy 70s, me on a bike)

Since then I have owned many bikes starting with a ’57 Harley I bought just after leaving Vietnam. During a pass from boot camp I saw Easy Rider and when I jumped out of a helicopter on the Cambodian border I met a now life-long friend that was in a motorcycle club. These two things influenced me to buy the biggest American bike I could, the Harley Davidson. This became a way to get the huge adrenalin rush I had been experiencing in combat and needed to live and feel normal again. Looking back, I don’t know that without the danger if I would have become so involved in riding. Living off my bike and working at shops as a mechanic building motors, trannys and whole bikes for customers was a way of life for me during the ’70s and ’80s.

Robert on the Road

I’ve owned eight Harleys, two Hondas, one Kawasaki, and my latest, the FJR Yamaha.

Since the first of the year I have put on over 10,000 miles (2 1/2 months) and will put many more on now that the mountains are starting to get passable again. My preference in riding is mostly mountains, but have started to really enjoy the long distance type of riding.

My first long distance rally was the Land of Enchantment in New Mexico last year. I have recently completed an IBA certified ride from coast to coast in under 44 hours called the 50CC. I’ve always wanted to cross the nation by motorcycle and the timing was excellent to do this ride, meet and talk with some of the most accomplished riders in the nation at the annual IBA Pizza Party, visit Daytona during bike week, and visit a riding buddy in Orlando, FL all on the same trip.

I was a bit under the weather when I began the ride but persevered and finished within the time limits. I had a fantastic ride with a bit of weather and road construction thrown in just to cover all the bases. The rain wasn’t too bad but the wind kept me on my toes for a good deal of the ride. This was a way to test my mental, physical, and mechanical ability and preparation.

I love challenges and this was a pretty good way to push myself at 57 years young. The solitude gives you time to let your mind go without outside influences and really clear your head for a better attitude towards life in general. My own personal demons become more restricted when I’m able to ride. When you’re in a car your watching the scenery go by and on a motorcycle you’re part of it: you feel it, smell it and feel much more alive and in tune with the world.

I would like to do a Border-to-Border ride and a BBG next, but finances and family dictate how much I can do in the LD circles.

My present Wife of 13 years is completely supportive of whatever needs I feel and does a small amount of riding with me; nothing more than 1,000 mile trips so far. With my first child, a boy 5 years old, I have been given a new perspective on life and family since my parents and grandparents have long since passed on. Life has been like riding a mountain road on a motorcycle with tight and sweeping turns along the way, traveling with let downs and exuberance hoping to come out on the other side having done your best.

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Mar 21

Conversation with Kevin Cole; 300,000 crash-free miles and going strong

By kevin | Interviews

Kevin Cole Riding

I was sitting with Dave Richardson (of Guzziology fame) today and he was ribbing me about how I was filling up midliferider with other people’s words. “What a great gig you have. You get other people to do your writing for you.” Errrr, Ummmm, okay.

Leaving aside the fact that I generate plenty of my own words, too many some might say, where’s the beef? There isn’t one of these conversations I haven’t enjoyed. There isn’t one I haven’t read several times. They’re all just great stories and the most recent, no matter who it’s with and this is no exception, without fail, becomes my new all time favorite.

Kevin gets his seat at the big table for at least two reasons. His story about his first bike, a Honda 90, is the whole point of this blog all wrapped up and ready to take home. It’s transporting. You can’t read about Walter and Henry and Darwin and welding that busted up kick-starter without wanting to cast the movie and start shooting on Monday. It’s paragraph after paragraph of great story telling about a time, a place, a guy, and a bike, none of which will ever happen again in this country. In fact, reading it caused echos of a trip I recently made to Vietnam to reverberate . . . all those tiny-engined Hondas, Suzukis, and various Chinese brands being welded on and worked on, on every street corner and sidewalk around . . . same dynamics, different time and place. That’s good story telling.

The other remarkable bit about Kev is his record of 300,000 road miles without going down. That’s a lot of fine riding. I made it 2,500 miles before I dropped my first “mid-life” bike.

I said there were two reasons. There’s actually a third. Kev and his wife are both find photographers, a hobby/habit that seems to twin-up nicely with riding.

Enjoy reading and looking.

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing.

I am 53 years old (54 in May) and work at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Tx. This is our nation’s final assembly point for nuclear weapons. I serve as the facility manager and procurement officer for the on-site medical clinic that performs a high volume of physicals per week, monitors hazardous materials exposures and takes care of all the minor OJIs that happen. We also have full-time shrinks on staff to administer our human reliability program that has the largest HRP population of any NNSA site. You can’t have whackos working on nukes ya know.

Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it?

I don’t recall the first bicycle but I do remember my first multi-speed bike. It was a Raleigh three-speed with the cable actuated rear drive on the right hand grip. I was king of the road with that baby. Bought it in the summer of 1965 for $10 from one of the football coaches who was pissed at his son for letting it sit out in the rain a few months after getting it for his birthday.

I took that bike and cleaned it up really good. I rode it until I got my first motorcycle in 1968. Then in 1970, my best buddy and I decided to build a fishing wagon and cut the bike up to use it as power for a paddle wheel.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

First ride was on a 1960 something Lambretta scooter that my uncle gave to my brothers. I wasn’t old enough then to drive but got to go for lots of rides; around and around a half-block dirt track across the street from our house. That went on from 1963 until about 1967 or so, but I sort of got the bug for bikes then and never lost it.

What was the first bike you owned?

Well, this is what I have from my journal:

1964 Honda 90—
Engine—89cc single, horizontal single
Date—Spring 1968

I had convinced my parents that I was responsible and mature enough to use this bike for getting to and from work and that it would be much easier to operate and maintain than a car. Besides I could not afford a car and neither could they, and I had to work if I wanted any spending money of my own. So the permission was given, I found this bike in the Amarillo newspaper, and I made the deal. Dad took me to get it in his lime green ’59 Ford pick-up.

The first thing I did was add a set of Bates mirrors on the recommendation of Darwin Floyd (more about Darwin later). They were flat mirrors cost about $4.00 each. Back in 68 that was a very expensive mirror for a bike.

Another early modification that had to be done was repair of the kick-starter. It had been poorly welded before I purchased the bike and the owner had assured me that it was professionally done (What a crock). Anyway, one of my good friends and riding buddy, Henry Lingenfelter lived on a farm and said his father was a very good welder, so I drove out to their place about seven miles East of Panhandle on Hwy. 60.

Walter first used a torch to clean up the mess left by the last guy, and when he had remove all of the excess slag and the like we discovered that the shaft was only about half there. That made the new welding job more of a challenge. Walter gave it his best shot, not once but three times. Each time the kick starter held-up for about two or three weeks. After that I just got used to push starting the little beast. It was not that hard to run along side with it in gear and the clutch pulled in, and then when I had enough speed up, hop on and pop the clutch. I got so good at this technique that I could usually get started before the guys who had working kick-starters, but was no match for those with electric starters. What the hey, I was young, 14, and strong, and just considered it another part of staying in shape to play football.

On a side note, several years later Walter Lingenfelter was killed in a car/train accident out where he lived on the farm East of Panhandle. I believe it was 1978 while I was living in Lubbock with Mark Reynolds at the University Arms apartment complex. Walter had always treated all of Henry’s friends as if they were his own kids, probably better than most of their own dads treated them (that was the case with me anyway). He will never be forgotten.

That first summer I used the 90 to commute back and forth from Panhandle to the Stucky’s candy shop/gas station in Conway where I worked as a station attendant. That little bike would run 60mph on a good day and easily got me to and from work on a daily basis.

Not too long into that summer I quit Stucky’s and went to work for L.R. Copeland, a retired Air Force Colonel who farmed a half section of land about four miles East of Panhandle. Again the 90 came through as a great little machine. I even used it when Danny May and I both had to get to Copeland’s to buck bales each time his 50 or so acres of alfalfa was cut and baled. Of course it would only run about 50-55 with two of us on it. We both probably weighed about 110 pounds back then though.

Neither of us could afford a real helmet at the time so we used construction hard hats that we held on with shoestrings: Got kind of painful after a while. By mid summer I had enough money to buy a cheap helmet $15.00; thought I was pretty cool too.

Until we both had helmets, we would take the long way around town making a twenty-mile trip out of what should have been only seven. We thought we were fooling the cops that way. Little did we realize that they knew the scam all along but left us alone because they knew we needed the jobs and that was the only way we could get to and from work. I found that out later when we matured enough to not be afraid of them and got to know them as normal guys.

Another memorable time on the 90 was when I got a real ass-chewing from the school superintendent for having it parked on the old dirt running track at the high school. A bunch of us guys were up there playing flag football and he came along with a chip on his shoulder about something. Anyway they all had vehicles parked on the track but I was the only one he really singled out. I think he just hated bikes and anyone who rode them. Sweet revenge though, a few weeks later, I took one of his daughters for a ride into the country where we made out for a couple of hours. Seems like the only other girl I ever took on the 90 was my first love, Lana McCaskey, the most beautiful blonde in world; or so I thought at the time.

So, how did I learn to ride? I don’t really recall, it just sort of came naturally after some brief instructions from my oldest brother, I think. I just seemed to take to it like a duck in water.

I did get some very good instructions, or some might consider them orders from our local “Arthur Fonzarelli,” Darwin Floyd. As I mentioned earlier, he was dating my good buddy’s sister, Julie Lingenfelter. Julie was Henry’s sister.

I believe Henry got a bike (blue Yamaha 250) shortly after I did and it was not long before we started riding together and Darwin kind of took us under his wing to make sure we learned to ride safely from the very beginning. He would take us out on the back roads around the Lingenfelter farm and teach us all about counter-steering, obstacle avoidance, quick stops, pretty much most everything you might learn in an MSF class today.

I had always been pretty mature minded for my age and took a real liking to Darwin for having cared enough to spend time with us younger guys like that. I suppose the safety stuff he taught me back in 1968 has probably saved my life more than once. Of course I did a lot of reading and practicing on my own back in those days too.

I kept that little Honda 90 for about two years and logged up approximately 12,000 miles on it. But it was getting old having the smallest bike in the group of guys that I had come to hang out with.

How many bikes have you owned?

Ten, purchased (or acquired) in this order:
1964 Honda 90 (1968 to 1970)
1968 Honda CB 350 (1970 to 1972)
1972 Honda CB 450 (1972 to 1979)
1976 BMW R75/6 (1977 to 1980)
1999 BMW R1200C (2000 to 2004–totaled by bro-in-law in Aug 2004)
1985 Honda Rebel 250 (2000 to present)
1998 BMW R1100RT (2001 to present)
1986 Honda Rebel 450 (2004 to present–wife’s bike)
2000 BMW R1200C (2004 to present)
1979 BMW R80S (2007 to present–gift from a friend)

How many bikes have you ridden?

Counting the Lambretta and the Sears Allstate my brothers had; only 15 that I rode more than a few minutes. That is discounting the literally hundreds I test road on my first job after high school, working for Sharp’s Honda in Amarillo, where I was assigned to assemble new bikes from the crate, tune them up and test ride them.

What do you own now?

1985 Honda Rebel 250
1998 BMW R1100RT
1986 Honda Rebel 450
2000 BMW R1200C
1979 BMW R80S

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

At the current rate ~30K

Riding gear of choice?

  • Motoport pants for winter
  • Tourmaster mesh pants for summer
  • Joe Rocket Jackets (solid fabric in winter and mesh in the summer)
  • Tourmaster Winter Elite gloves
  • Held mesh summer gloves Planning to purchase Gerbing electric gloves for next winter season; circulation is making the mornings seem colder every year.
  • Currently using Nolan N100 helmet but considering a new HJC SyMax II this year
  • Rocky insulated military style boots

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now?

I ride every chance I get, although the cost of gasoline is beginning to put a bit of a damper on that. I commute to work every day that the temperature is above 25 degrees and there is no moisture in the forecast. Once spring is here, there has to be a very high probability of heavy rain or severe weather to keep me from commuting on the bike(s).

I will usually get on the bike every morning it is not raining with the attitude that if I can get to work dry, it doesn’t matter if I get wet going home; I probably needed the shower anyway. My daily commute is ~66 miles and the last two years I commuted on the bikes 191 days in 2006 and 189 days in 2007.

In the past few years, I regularly took the long way home that sometimes took me as much as 400 miles to get home when it is normally only 33. I call that miracle mileage.

I also wrote a newsletter for the local BMW club for six years beginning in 2001 through 2007, but the interest waned and peoples’ lives just seemed to get too busy (including mine) to keep that going. It was a rather eclectic group though.

The founder was Eddie Scott an Amarillo attorney who wanted the group to be open to all riders, not just BMW guys, so he adopted the policy of, “If you can spell BMW, come ride with us.” I did my best to keep that attitude in myself and in the group until we unofficially dissolved last year due to the afore-mentioned lack of interest and time.

The group was called the Palo Duro Riders of Amarillo though we had members from all over the Panhandle of Texas. They ranged in diversity from a retired dentist to young guys on R1100Ss. At the peak of interest in about 2003 we were having 25 to 30 people show up for our only regularly planned event called a ride-eat-ride or RER. We would simply meet at a restaurant determined at the previous RER on a Saturday afternoon for lunch and some would ride more miles some would just go straight to and from. We even had couple of older guys riding: the dentist who is now 80 something and another guy that just turned 82. I still get to ride with him on occasion, (he rides a 2000 R1100RT as good as any youngster I’ve seen).

Have you ever been able to get paid for any of your writing and riding?

While not my profession, I did get the opportunity to make a few bucks riding in the fall of 2006 when I landed a contract with Mad Maps to ride and report on interesting loops around the Texas Panhandle. They allowed me to submit five loops that should be published some time this summer. ( I’m the 10th guy down). I have also made a few extra dollars with some accessories I invented for the BMW R1200C and R1100RT (luggage racks & seats mostly).

You mentioned photography. How do you fit that with riding and owning motorcycles? For me, it’s a natural but difficult fit. Natural in when I’m riding, I’m usually passing through some pretty nice places. Difficult in that I never want to stop once I get going. So I only take pictures when I have to pee or get fuel.

For a while after I first got back into biking after my nearly 20 year hiatus, I simply rode the wheels off the ’99 cruiser. After I met my wife who shared my passion for photography, I began to stop and smell the roses a bit more in the form of taking time to compose and shoot hundreds of pictures on virtually every ride we take together. (Gotta have something to remember it all when the mind starts to go and I’m too old to hold a bike up). I even take lots of time for pictures when I ride solo now.
What attracted you to motorcycling?

I guess it must have been the thrill of those first rides on the Lambretta in the mid 60s. Then came some good shows like Easy Rider, Electraglide in Blue and Then Came Bronson that sort of glorified the free spirit of it all.

Why do you ride?

It’s a way of life for me now. You already know the part about how I got started. Here’s the story about how I got back involved after nearly 20 years away from it.

It’s 1995. I had a new job that was paying very nicely. I had been driving my 1984 Jeep Scrambler since purchased new in the fall of 1983. I also had recently purchased a ’95 laser red Ford Mustang. Several of the mid-life guys at work were all into their Harleys and a variety of other bikes – mostly it was the image hound HD guys though. There were lots of conversations & debates going around about the “quality” of different bikes as there always is in a setting like I was in. With me being an old beemer guy from the 70s, I naturally had to throw in my two cents worth on occasion. Those little debates got me to sort of hankerin’ for another bike.

I spotted a 1977 R100/7 for sale in the local paper one day and went for a short test ride. Ended up not buying that one and then just sort of forgot about it mainly due to heavy involvement in golf, racquetball and overall fitness. A few more years pass by to the fall of 1999 and I had a new assignment at work that put me into an area where there were even more of the mid-life guys buying HDs and HD clones and acting like they knew a lot about bikes. I knew from listening to and visiting with several of them that they were pretty green to the sport. I couldn’t believe how many pretending to be seasoned riders had no clue what counter-steering was, something I had learned from an older rider in 1968 on my Honda 90.

As luck would have it one evening on an overtime shift, a buddy of mine who knew I was into BMWs, tossed me a BMW brochure someone had discarded. I got to looking at it and was amazed at the changes made from the time I rode in the late 70s to 1999. Wow! That R1100RT was absolutely gorgeous. I kept that brochure at my desk for a while and would pull it out and dream a little of times gone by and times that could be again.

In November that year (1999), I traveled to Tulsa for a hazardous waste seminar and got my national certification as a hazardous materials manager (CHMM). While in the class in Tulsa, I had plenty of free time in the evenings and made a point to locate the BMW dealership. I wanted to see those new RTs first hand. Ah, but alas, the @#%$ Germans had made them waaaaaaaaaaay too tall for a vertically challenged guy like myself.

I guess when I was younger leaning the R75 way over at stops didn’t bother me. I knew that this newer RT could present some mighty precarious problems though. I looked around the shop some more and spotted a canyon red R1200C. Hmmmmm, looked pretty low; I sat on it and discovered that even in running shoes, I had the balls of both feet pretty solidly planted on the ground.

Of course the week long class with a rental car on company business didn’t give me much of a chance to do any dealing. I returned home and got really busy with work and other hobbies like golfing, bicycling, sailing and fishing, but something inside me was still being drawn back to motorcycling. Practical type that I am though, I just couldn’t justify a bike (like you need to justify a bike –right?).

Anyway, I found myself out on the lake one January afternoon fishing from my water-wagon when a sailing buddy of mine heaved-to and drifted up to chat for a few minutes. We exchanged a few tales, then he hoisted sails and went in for the day. I found out a week later that he had gone home that night after I saw him and died. An aneurysm in his brain had ruptured and he went quietly in the night.

Now this fella was as fit a 57-year old as you were gonna find. He ran 3 to 5 miles every morning, rode bicycles, lifted weights, etc. In fact, he and I had made several long morning bike rides from the boats when the rest of scurvy dawgs were still sleeping off the previous night’s booze. John’s passing got me to thinking; “That can happen to anyone any time without warning just like it did him.” With that in mind, I promised myself I was not going to go through the rest of my life saying I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that.

On my short list was to get another motorcycle and start enjoying the open road again just as I had nearly 20 years before. By April of 2000 I had made a pretty righteous deal on a still new ’99 R1200C and have not regretted it nor the other bikes I’ve acquired since then. I have now logged up another 197,000 miles since then to add to my previous miles 20 years ago for a lifetime total over 300K and loving every minute of it.

What does your wife think?

I was already well into my second round of riding when Deb and I met and she found it sort of exciting after 24 years in a boring stressful and unsuccessful marriage. Now she still rides, but some of the initial excitement has worn off. Thankfully, she is very understanding and accepting of my still burning passion for it.

Does she ride with you now?

She was much more into it when we first met (fall of 2001) and seems to be getting interested again. The past few years have been very busy for her and she simply hasn’t had the time nor the energy to do it.

The 1986 450 Rebel mentioned earlier was her B-day present in summer of ’04 and I am hoping to rekindle the riding enthusiasm for her this summer. But, whether she gets the passion or not is entirely up to her. I am not going to push it and have told her that she can ride pillion for as long as she wants. It makes me feel pretty good to have an understanding (and skilled) passenger after riding for most of my life solo.

What do you think about when you ride?

It varies. Sometimes when I am wanting to work on skills, the ride is all I think about. I’m a believer that “perfect practice makes perfect.” And that practicing of skills on a motorcycle is what has kept me accident free for over 300,000 miles on the street.

Then there are times when I come up with some of my best ideas for solving problems while on leisurely rides and just thinking about nothing until an idea hits me, then I dwell on it while maintaining a close watch on all the crazy cagers who are always out to get us.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

I sort of touched on that already, so to expand that a bit . . . Riding motorcycles is a risky choice of transportation/entertainment/etc. But I am living proof that you can go for long periods of time and miles without crashing.

I believe that it is all about being the very best defensive driver you can be at all times while in traffic. I also avoid cities where the most danger exists, contrary to what some believe about “short, safe rides around town.” I would estimate that 90% of my miles have been logged on the open highway.

I’ve done a lot of reading as well. Some of that reading recently has been to scour David Hough’s first two books again and again since April of 2000. I not only re-read them, but I go out and practice things I feel that I may need a little work on.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

Take the MSF course and then read Hough’s first book and practice like your life depended on it; because it does.

[amtap book:ibsn=1889540536] [amtap book:ibsn=1931993033]

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

I am very partial to BMWs and would probably recommend an old airhead for a first bike because they are light weight, easy to work on, handle well, and are nearly bullet proof.

Next to that, a mid-sized cruiser (Honda, Kawi, or Yamaha) would be a good choice for a first bike. That would keep a novice from getting into too much trouble with too much power and weight before they are ready for heavier more powerful bikes. I definitely would caution any and all beginners against getting super-powered sport bikes — that’s just a death wish waiting to come true.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

Riding 300,000 miles without an accident.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Anywhere; keeping in mind, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes it what it is.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding” (not just collecting), what would you pick?

BMW R1200C

Kevin Cole

Mar 20

Conversation with Lowell Goss: Founder of Fast3R

By kevin | Interviews

Lowell Goss is too young to be having this much fun. (I think that’s known as a “Zimmerman” opening.)

Lowell is yet another boy-genius who has figured out a way to combine a passion for riding with making a living. Actually, he’s working hard on a new internet venture called Fast3R, so the making a living part is still a fiction buried on page 11 of some PowerPoint. (If you haven’t checked it out, you should . . . but only after you finish here!).

Fast3R has huge promise. I say that as someone who has spent more than a little time and effort on “web 2.0” (look it up yourself) businesses and applications. The part that has been so roundly missing, and the part that I think Lowell is on to, is linking all this cool community-building technology that’s floating around out there with communities that already exist. That’s where we motorcyclists come in.

Lowell’s tale of popping a wheelie in the Rose Bowl parking lot the first time he rides a real motorcycle is a smiler. I wasn’t that clever or brave, but I do remember the parking lot part (except it was outside D.C., the bike was a Honda CB500, and the guy’s name was Ralph). But I was hooked, just like Lowell. It just took me way longer to do something about it.

He’s still a ways from Mid-Life, but kudos to Lowell for being thoughtful and articulate about riding and the great meanings of life. Anyone who has ridden as many bikes in as many fun places as Lowell has gets a place at the big table.

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing.

Here are some facts about me.

  • 34 years old
  • Married with one kid on the way
  • Grew up in a small town in Indiana
  • Mother was/is scared of motorcycles. they were never allowed.
  • My dad had motorcycles in his teens and early 20s. He has several good stories about them including hitting a large pig while riding and wrecking with my mother on the back.

Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it?

My first bike was a black and yellow Huffy. Nothing special. When I got older my dad bought me a Schwinn that he had the bike shop customize for me. It was a yellow Stingray with a banana seat, BMX bars and yellow fiberglass mag rims. When I first got it I thought it was super cool. It was certainly unusual and extremely heavy. Other kids made fun of it for being weird looking.

Sadly for my dad, that made ME think that it wasn’t cool. I started trading other kids for parts to customize it. Eventually I traded for a Mongoose BMX frame that I used to make a BMX bike. The frame was all scratched so my dad took me to a local body shop run by a car customizing guy name Johnny Guardo (sp?). Johnny painted the frame candy apple and metal flake. It was super cool.

When did you first ride a motorcycle?

I guess there are really two stories here. When I was about 12 my uncle John bought a 50cc moped. I think it was a Puch. When I would go to visit him all I wanted to do was ride the moped. I rode it flat out all the time. By this time it was clear that I liked things that had motors and went fast.

My re-introduction to bikes was in 1997. My friend Jerry had just started riding and purchased a Yamaha Seca II. The Seca II was not a great bike, but I really wanted to give it a try. We went together to the Rose Bowl parking lot in Pasadena. Lots of people go there to learn to drive and practice. He parked the bike, handed me his helmet and the keys. I got on the bike and started it up.

Now on the old moped you had to give it a handful to get going. This is not the case on a 900cc motorcycle. I gave it a handful of gas, let out the clutch and pulled a huge wheelie. I managed to not fall off, but scared myself silly. I was hooked. Now I don’t even really know how to wheelie.

What was the first bike you owned?

I immediately went from my first adult riding experience to reading everything I could find about bikes. I ended up buying an ex-press fleet 1997 Ducati Monster 750 from Pro Italia in Glendale. I didn’t even have a permit yet. Earl delivered the bike to my house in the back of the shop van. The bike was a steal. It had about 550 miles on it. I bought it for way under sticker price because it was a press bike. A couple years later I sold it for almost exactly what I paid for it. Since it was a press bike it had probably been ridden hard, but other than a faulty rectifier (which all Ducati’s of that era suffered from), it was great.

How many bikes have you owned?

Let me see

  • 1997 Ducati Monster 750
  • 1998 Yamaha R6
  • 1999 BMW R1100S
  • 199? Gasgas trials bike (never ran)
  • 1999 KTM Duke II
  • 2003 Ducati ST4s
  • 2004 Ducati Multistrada 1000DS
  • 2004 Ducati Monster S4R
  • 2006 KTM 950 Supermoto
  • 1965 BMW R50/2

How many bikes have you ridden?

Many. I have had the good fortune to have great relationships with Pro Italia, Ducati North America, Ducati (in Italy), Dylan Weiss and the Motorcycle Industry Council. This has given me many great opportunities to ride lots of bikes. Here are a few.

  • Ducati 999
  • Ducati 748RS
  • MV Agusta F4 750
  • MV Agusta Brutale 750S & 910
  • MV Agusta Brutale 910
  • Every Ducati Monster, ST and Multistrada
  • Harley V-Rod
  • Suzuki V-Strom, SV 650, SV 1000
  • KTM 950 Adventure
  • Kawasaki KLR 650
  • BMW R1150GS, R1200GS, R1200RT, R1150R, K1200S

What do you own now?

Right now I own a KTM 950 Supermoto. It is a fantastic bike. I think KTM makes the coolest, sexiest, most fun motorcycles on the market.

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

Not that many. Probably about 10,000.

You are the moving force behind Fast3R. I spent a lot of time and money over the last two years on a “web 2.0” project. I have lots of my own observations about what’s going on, on the web. One of them is that there is a lot of money and technology in search of an audience and a purpose. What inspired you to start Fast3R? Was it an extension of your interest in motorcycles, or did it just seem like a logical market?

I started Loud3r Inc. in June of 2007. Our aim is to build a network of enthusiast content sites for many topics. When it came time to pick topics to test the software, motorcycles were an obvious choice. There is a great passionate community of people involved with motorcycling. The content and interest areas are very diverse. To be successful we needed to be able to find and publish the best content about everything from Sturgis to World Superbike to Stunt riding.

Because motorcycles are a huge passion for me I knew that I could provide a good eye in judging whether the product was really working. When I started finding cool articles every day that I couldn’t easily find elsewhere, I knew we were on to something.

Motorcycling isn’t a singular thing. In fact, there is arguably a fair distance between the person interested in sport bikes, the person interested in heavy cruisers, and the dirt bike rider (just to name three). How do you see bridging those diverse interests? Few traditional media companies even try.

I think you’re right that motorcycling is incredibly diverse. At the same time, every time I go to MotoGP at Laguna I see many guys there who love racing, but rode there on their Harleys.

Riders have much more diverse personal tastes than traditional magazines and sites seem to understand. How many riders have a dirt bike and a sport bike. Here in Southern California, many Ducati riders also own custom bikes. The idea with FAST3R is to let the individual user pick the content they think is cool. The product helps you find just Honda content if that’s your thing or you can choose to read about Motocross or Adventure Touring. I think that’s much closer to the reality of people’s interests.

There are certain brands that inspire a great deal of passion. I’ll name a few. I’d be interested in what you observe based on what’s going on with Fast3R and the sources you feed from: Harley, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, KTM, Triumph, BMW, Buell.

Wow. That’s a big question. The site has been live for a little over a month, but we are definitely seeing trends from both writers and from readers. The big areas of activity so far are around BMW, Ducati and KTM. The Moto Guzzi Stelvio has gotten a fair amount of attention. The KTM RC8 launch is a big deal.

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now? Do your business ventures suck all the air out?

Business is time consuming. I try to ride every weekend, but sometimes 2-3 weeks manage to slip by without starting the bike.

What attracted you to motorcycling? Why do you ride?

My dad rode bikes when he was younger, but motorcycles were forbidden when I was growing up. I guess that was part of the initial interest. My friend Jerry was riding and it seemed fun and cool. Once I started to ride I got swept away by it.

With all of the intrusions of work, life and technology, riding is one of the few things that requires my full concentration: 100%. There an incredible satisfaction in riding and controlling the bike. There’s also a paradox of being in greater touch with the world around you. Let’s face it, a motorcycle is an artificial intrusion into the world. It’s loud. It pollutes. But, when I ride I do feel more in touch with the world around me. The smells. The changing light. The surface of the road.

You said you’re married. Was riding something you discussed? Were there issues? Were there deals made?

I am married. Twice. No deals. My wife loves riding on the back. The Multistrada was a great two-up bike. I would not date or marry a woman who tried to forbid me from riding. I meet guys all the time who say. “Yeah, I loved riding, but my wife made me give it up.” I have a hard time understanding their situation. I am not interested in anyone forbidding me from doing anything. I like the illusion of free will.

What do you think about when you ride?

I really try to not think about anything. For me riding is an opportunity for focus and concentration. Especially at track days, but even on the street. The ride is the point.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

Riding a motorcycle is a dangerous activity. It’s a fact. Other drivers are hazards. The road surface can be dangerous. We sometimes exceed our own skill and ability.

It’s important to try and manage risk. I always wear a full-face helmet, gloves, jacket (back, shoulder and elbow armor) and boots. I should wear leather pants, but I often don’t. I try to keep my skills sharp with track days. I NEVER DRINK A DROP IF I AM GOING TO RIDE.

I believe that people are free to make choices, but wearing no helmet (or a skull cap), no protective gear, not getting training and drinking are stupid choices.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?

Acquire skills through training. Take the MSF course. Take advanced rider courses. Ride your bike on the track to keep your skills sharp.

What bike would you recommend (and why)?

I love KTMs. They deliver sharp riding performance. Their design is distinctive. I like orange. The 950 Supermoto is a great “sport-bike”. It will do about anything you’d want except touring. If I was buying a bike for distance I’d get the Moto Guzzi Stelvio or a KTM Adventure.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?

I went with a group of friends on a trip riding across part of Alaska on KLR 650s. Fast dirt roads. Glaciers. Moose. A great trip with a great group of guys.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Last summer I rode in the Italian Alps with my friend Bill Nation. We rode over the Gavia Pass in the cold rain, which sucked. Gavia is a one lane road with two way traffic. The next day we rode the Stelvio Pass. Absolutely the best road I have ever ridden. It was cold (late June), but clear. Snow at the top. The Italian Alps are absolutely fantastic. Great roads. Great little roadside cafes.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

Hmm. I keep a wishlist of bikes that I’d like to ride or own. Right now the #1 spot on the list is the BMW HP2 Megamoto.

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Mar 19

Conversation with Dylan Weiss: Part 2

By kevin | Interviews

Dylan Weiss

This is part two of an interview I did with Dylan Weiss, the genius behind Twisting Asphalt and Twist The Throttle.

How many bikes have you ridden? You must have a couple of favorites, or perhaps some that are most memorable. Give me a couple of sentences about your top five.

I honestly have no idea how many bikes I’ve ridden since I started riding. Between the documentaries, Twist The Throttle, reviews for Pro Italia and then just general tire kicking it’s got to be around fifty or so I’d guess, but no idea really…

Asking my opinion about favorite bikes is hard – we could be here for days! Ultimately I think what it boils down to is that I can usually find enjoyment in just about any bike, anywhere, as long as the temps are decent and the road is fun. Sure some bikes handle better then others or have more power or do specific tasks better – like touring, which is an obvious example – but the basic feeling that any motorcycle elicits is more or less the same.

You’re making an emotional connection with an inanimate object that somehow has the power to take you away from everything else that’s going on in life. That’s the real draw for me. That cathartic release.

Granted some days I like to carve corners and on other days I enjoy leisurely ambles up the coast, but the thing that ultimately connects all the different genres of motorcycling, for me at least, is being able to have this one-on-one conversation with a bike that forces you to shut everything else out.

There are lots of pictures of you on the track. What’s your mix of riding: track, street, off-road, dirt?

Well track pictures always look better lol! In all seriousness, I split my time fairly evenly between sport-riding and sport-touring. In terms of track time, that’s really dependent on work and as any small business owner will tell you, it’s really hard to make plans two or three months out because there’s always something else that needs to get done.

Since getting into street riding, I haven’t ridden in the dirt at all – but I have a feeling that will change shortly. For whatever reason I having a real itch to explore it again. So we’ll see…

How many miles do you expect to ride this year?

Generally I average around five to six thousand miles a year split among the bikes that Milt and I own. If it weren’t for the service requirements that go hand in hand with Ducati ownership, I probably wouldn’t even really keep count… I know some folks get really into the mileage figures – and that’s cool – but for me it’s much more about the ‘experience’.

Riding gear (street) of choice? Riding gear (track) of choice? Riding gear (dirt) of choice?

On the street and the track you’ll always find me in a full set of leathers. I just feel safer in a one-piece. If I’m doing any sort of distance touring, then I’ll usually go with a two-piece just because it’s more practical, but I’ll admit I feel much more vulnerable in it.

How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now?

Hard to say – Ideally I’d like to think that we’ll stay connected to motor and motorcycle programming for a long time, but from a business standpoint I’m not sure if that’s possible. We live in an incredibly fractured era of television: There are literally more channels available then ever before and in order to survive each channel has to carve out their own niche. So even though there are 500+ channels, there are really only a handful that will probably ever consider putting motor docs on the air.

And then frankly it’s up to the audience – if they choose not to ignore the TV broadcast version because they’re willing to wait for a DVD or a friend to send them a video file over the internet, then the networks aren’t going to continue to be interested in this sort of programming because there won’t be any worthwhile ratings to be had. I don’t mean to sound negative, but that’s sort of the reality. TV is by large degree a highly democratic medium – everyone who picks up a remote control has the power to help decide what succeeds and what fails.

What attracted you to motorcycling?

Seeing the pleasure that Milt got out of riding – at least that’s how my early interest in the sport started… But then the more profound moment came while growing up in Northern California, Milt got some tickets to an AMA race at Sears Point – which was my first experience seeing motorcycle racing, live or on TV.

I remember it wasn’t the greatest of days in terms of the weather – started out very overcast – and we lived a good two, two-and-half hours away from the track, so we got up early and made the long trek out to Napa. Sat through horrendous traffic and screwy signage, but eventually we parked the car… Then as we started walking up the hill, I remember hearing the faint echo of an unusual mechanical wailing… And as we climbed higher we started hear these nasty, vicious screaming engines roaring. Then we hit the crest of the hill and I caught my first glimpse of a bright red bike that was flying around the track. No graphics, no fancy colors, just red. Brilliant red. I spent the rest of the day transfixed. The speed, the sound, the energy, it was unlike anything else I’d ever seen. And I remember afterwards that even though I knew nothing about the sport I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

Do you still feel that way? When someone asks you now why you ride, how do you respond?

Absolutely! And for a whole bunch of reasons…

First off, one of the things that I truly love about the motor-community as a whole is that it’s remarkably inclusive – as opposed to so many areas of life which are exclusive either by choice or not – motorcycling, and more specifically motorcyclists, cut across all sorts of boundaries that exist in society – race, gender, age, social status. If you’re a motorcyclist and I’m a motorcyclist, even though we might come from different places or ride different genres of bikes, we share a passion.

So that’s one part of the equation for me – the other part is that I greatly appreciate the ‘sport’ that’s involved in riding. You can’t just jump on a motorcycle and be good at it – it takes time and it takes practice.

And then there’s the escape that it provides – it’s such a highly focused activity that it allows you to filter the rest of your life in a somewhat magical way. After I come back from a good ride, everything always seems better no matter what’s going on. There’s just something about becoming one with a bike on the road that I find mentally relaxing.

Some people liken riding to “zen.” I know there are lots of times when I get a mystical sort of feeling when I ride. Do you have those sorts of moments?

Well for me when I’m in the moment while riding I’m just focused on the ride – On being proficient and safe and enjoying the act of manipulating the machine. I tend to get deeper so to speak, or try and find context for the ride after it’s over. Every now and then I’ll think of something while I’m riding, and try to scribble it down when I take a wrist break (1098) or butt break (1098 and ST3) but usually intellectual stuff comes once I’m wrapped for the day and enjoying an adult beverage.

This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?

It’s not indelicate at all – riding a motorcycle is dangerous. There’s simply no other way to put it.

Something that Nick Ienatsch said on camera while we filming a documentary called “Speed On Two Wheels” has always stuck with me – and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the transcript in front of me, but it went along the lines of, “people realize they have to take a ski lesson before they go skiing but they’ll jump on a motorcycle will no training and that’s absolutely crazy” and he’s right.

[amtap book:isbn=1893618072]

From my perspective this is an activity that is all about managing risk and you never stop learning. I think everybody ought to take the MSF basic rider course. Matter of fact I think it ought to be mandatory in order to get a license. And not to sound preachy, but you’ve got to wear the right gear – I don’t buy the argument that riding gear or more specifically helmets are more dangerous – Nothing offends me more as a rider then seeing somebody jump on a liter bike in flip flops and shorts with no helmet. Personally I think those are the folks who give both the sport and machines a really bad name. It’s not the outlaw biker image that does the industry harm, but the guys and gals who end up as statistics on the front page of the paper.

If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?

Well, thanks to work, I’ve had the good fortunate of being able to ride The Futa Pass in Italy a few times – and it’s a truly remarkable road – really maze to be honest, you could spend a lifetime finding new great curvy roads there.

Bavaria is another awesome spot – again, thanks to work I’ve had the pleasure to ride around there a few different times and it’s truly the ride of a lifetime. For starters there’s the Alps, which are simply unreal. You don’t quite realize just how spectacular they are until to see them in person. And then there are the roads: They are simply magnificent serpentine structures full of all kinds of curves and corners.

And then finally there’s the California Coastline – my favorite spot is between Morro Bay and Monterey, but there are some wonderful off-shoots as well.

For instance my usual loop if I’m leaving LA on a trip to SF, I usually take Highway 33 out of Ojai – which is one of the great sport road Meccas I’ve found in the world, then I’ll hit Route 166 and head back into the Central Valley, before popping on to CA-25, which is a great road too, and I’ll take that from the western edge of the Central Valley to the Coast and CA-1.

They’re all different spots with different visuals attached to them, but they all share that sense of magic. Whenever you can marry marvelous views with good asphalt and lots of curves, you’re in for a great ride.

If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding (not just collecting), what would you pick?

Tough question! Honestly I don’t know what I’d pick at the moment, but there are several bikes that are currently catching my eye. Certainly with a blank check I’d have to start by taking a serious look at the new Ducati Desmosedici. Let’s face it, for most of us without a blank check we’ll never afford it, so why not! 😉

Next I wouldn’t mind taking a serious look at an MV Agusta F4 – being at the factory had a profound effect on me personally. Just a wonderful place, very moto-romantic.

I really enjoyed the GSXR-600 as a possible track day weapon. Great fun, incredibly nimble, very reasonably priced, parts are easy to come by and don’t set you back as much as comparable Italian parts.

I’m very curious to see what happens with the BMW World Superbike entry. Since that’s a production based racing class, they’ll have to homologate something and as a general rule when the Germans set their mind to go racing, whether it’s Mercedes, Audi, Porsche or BMW, they usually come up with a very competitive package. So that should be fun to take one for a spin.

And certainly I think you’ve got take a hard look at what KTM has been up to – they certainly seem to be gaining ground on the street…

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