Bumpy Roads

New Hampshire State 11A is paved, for sure, but it runs through the hills near Gunstock Mountain and it’s hard to keep the water out from under it. In the winter, you get big transverse bumps and dips and, over time, longitudinal bumped-up cracks in the middle of the lane. It’s pretty annoying to see road crews and equipment working on it every other year or so, getting big money for only temporary improvement when what it needs is a proper roadbed with drainage.

The worst vehicle for this road was my 1987 Jeep Wrangler. My favorite is the 1997 BMW F650.

The heaving changes as winter progresses and I’m always trying to find the smoothest path through it. The F650 steering is quick and I can easily counter-steer around the worst of it. When the going is especially rough, the bike likes a path just to the right of the cracks in the center of the lane. Even on an unfamiliar road, it is usually a good choice. It’s not an obvious choice visually, just a good bet from experience.  If I hit an unavoidable dip or bump at 45mph or more, the upright riding position allows me to quickly lift off the seat.

When there is oncoming traffic,however, I don’t make dramatic position changes in the lane. Otherwise, I will seem erratic others.

The bike has plenty of suspension travel, and while the ride on a bad road is not exactly smooth, it seems to not get much worse as the road gets considerably worse. It also has plenty of power to climb up to where I live near Gunstock. It’s a 650, but rated at 48 HP at 6500 RPM, whereas a 650 Suzuki S40, for example, makes only 31 HP at 5400 RPM.

The F650 is not a speedy bike, but I can easily keep up with anyone on 11A. I like that.


Motorcycle Psychology

Does your bike make you bigger, or smaller? Mine has done some of both.

It’s a 1997 F650 and is a little too top heavy for me, or at least was when I first got it. My yard is uneven and when horsing it around, it can get away from me pretty fast. I feel small and stupid when I drop the bike and it’s laying on its side with the wheels in the air. The feeling deepens as I try to pick it up and find it is too heavy for me. I can’t even feel clever as I winch it upright using a come-along anchored about 7 feet up a tree.

I bought a set of BMW engine guards with the hope that future drops will be easier to manage. I expect to be able to easily balance the bike on it’s side on the engine guard in front and whatever is hitting the ground in the rear. From there, I can tilt it up until both wheels contact the ground. At that angle, I should be able to lift it with my butt against the seat, the way svelte ladies lift their Harleys. If I can do that, my ability to right the bike will partially offset the personal failure of dropping it. Lately, though, it has stayed upright.

I sense my brain is adapting to the bike, making me less apt to drop it. Previously, I would be focused on getting it over some awkward hump and would unwittingly let it tilt too far to one side and then not respond quickly enough as it started to go down. Now, my brain doesn’t lose track of it as easily. My reflexes are still pretty decent as I will often automatically catch a tool in mid air that has gotten knocked off a bench. So I think, in the end, the bike is the right size for me. The F650 is ideal for street riding on beat up New England roads and being able to own it and ride it is definitely satisfying.

Maintaining the bike myself has been a good thing. As it rolls down the road, I sense how it is running, knowing that I can replace parts as they wear out and keep it running well. In addition to ordinary maintenance, I cleaned and rebuilt the carburetors with good results, re-greased and adjusted the headstock bearings, replaced the handlebars, checked the brake pads, replaced missing screws and miscellaneous aging rubber parts, intake filter assembly, chain (unnecessarily) and fuel line. I’m gradually working my way through it, and it isn’t ready for any long distance rides yet. The 6600-mile bike has 19 year old original Michelin tires on it with some wear left and no visible cracks. I’m planning on replacing them with Metzler Tourance tires before June inspection. New tubes also. I bought a needle grease tip to hopefully inject fresh grease behind the wheel bearing seals.

The bike is a second vehicle, my vehicle, and it hasn’t cost much to buy, insure, register and maintain. It’s transportation and a satisfying move towards minimalization. If I had purchased a new bike with the accompanying need for dealer maintenance, I would be getting smaller as the bike naturally took charge of my wallet, quickly depreciating with time and drop damage with expensive service ever looming and me kept at arm’s length from the secret workings of the machine. For that reason, I’m converted to the scenario of buying a low mileage, low cost classic bike and doing the necessary catchup work to refresh the grease, seals and other “rubber” parts. I define a classic as a design that has held up for me over time as the bike has aged to that magic low price level. The classic BMW models typically decline to about $2500-$3500 and then start increasing in value again as they become more rare and desirable. A friend says he let’s someone else buy his bike, store it and not ride it for 10-20 years, and then sell it to him at a fraction of the original price. He has an R75, R90, K100, R1100RT, R1200GS and a 350 Honda, and a couple of friend-learning-to-ride bikes.

I’m glad it took me two years, at least, to consider various bikes before committing to one. I recommend taking the time to think it through because owning a bike is a different phase from looking at bikes. Try to imagine what it will mean to you, practically, to own a particular bike, and don’t forget the other people affected by it. For example, my wife was amenable to the idea of a BMW motorcycle as opposed to no motorcycle. In the language of Tao, the F650 was on the “Path”.

I tend to feel diminished by the creeping advance of regulation, so I was surprised to get a boost from the process of getting a motorcycle endorsement on my license. I took the written and riding skills tests and they actually let me (minimally competent) on the road, any public road, anywhere in the country and beyond. At 70, I don’t feel particularly diminished or run over by “progress” if I can still ride a motorcycle.