Running Lean: Part Three

There are pluses and minuses to everything. Take the “tiny house” movement, for example.

New England town ordinances typically restrict a tiny house to an uninhabitable auxiliary structure on a property with an existing legal dwelling. A partial workaround is to put wheels on the tiny house and call it an RV.

But if the RV sits for more than a few months it is apt to get assessed and taxed as part of the real estate value of the overall property. Even if it has wheels on it. And eventually, if someone is living in the RV, residential zoning will likely require a move to an RV park or a place where zoning allows it.

In other words, the tiny house movement has a giant cannon-shot hole in the side of it. Where will you be allowed use it?

Only the devout can ignore these and other negatives.

Still, I love the idea of a tiny house.

Writing about Jay Shafer, arguably the father of the tiny house movement, Mark Sundeen says, “he described himself as a “meaning addict,” always looking for higher significance in material objects. “A gate in a picket fence that opens onto a narrow path that leads through a yard to an open porch that covers a door,” he said, “is a set of symbols we recognize as signposts guiding us through increasingly private territory toward the threshold of someone’s clandestine world.””

Fantastic! Couple that with the idea that you can build your own dwelling, own it outright, and live in it for next to nothing and you have the perfect thing for anyone looking to live light on the land.

Imagine. A life you can manage!

Here’s a nice, typically-sized version of a tiny house:



It’s said that an image in the mind is almost as good as the real thing. In some ways better because you can filter out the negatives.

I say, “Dream on!” In fact, park a little scooter behind that tiny house as well.


Running Lean: Part Two

The Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago, is a traditional Christian pilgrimage that dates back to the 9th century. There are many routes, but they all converge on the cathedral in Santiago where the bones of Saint James the Great are thought to reside. The route “par excellence” is the Frances route that starts in St. Jean Pied du Port, France and goes up over the Pyrenees and down into Spain. It’s about 500 miles long.

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The spires are on the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

Nowadays, a willingness to cover some distance on foot seems to be the only requirement to become a pilgrim. My wife and I opted for a minimum Camino that includes just the last portion of the Frances route.

After walking 102 kilometers on the Way from Sarria to Santiago, we got our “compostelas”, spent some time sight-seeing in the old city, and then continued on to the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Finisterre, thought to be the “end of the land” in medieval times. We walked a total of 192 km, about 120 miles.


End of the land, Finisterre, Spain. 0.0 km marker

We were hiking from marker to marker, cafe to cafe, inn to inn, carrying a change of clothes and a few personal items, minimal food and water, no sleeping bags and no tent. No baggage.

My brain had stopped spinning on the usual stuff after the first 20 miles or so, content to be doing just about nothing. Our days were filling up with very simple things.

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As novices, we were slowly increasing our daily mileage from 6 to 15 and had discovered an early afternoon rest was useful, so when we ambled by a Galician farmer’s mowed field with a nice shady tree near the path, we spread our rain gear on the soft ground and dropped onto it with our packs under our heads.

After walking for miles, it was luxurious to just get off our feet. There were no bugs to bother us and the temperature was perfect.

I munched on a few Choco Flakes, sipped some water, took in the green field, the animals, and the poofy clouds gliding by in a blue sky. I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

I fell asleep right in the middle of my epiphany.

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When I woke up later it took me a few moments to realize where I was. I heard the chatter of pilgrims moving along the path just behind us.

We said, “Hola”.

They looked around and were surprised to spot us on the ground behind the shrubs and tree, but quickly smiled their approval .

“Hola! Buenos dias!”

“Buen Camino!”

“Buen Camino!”

Our vocabulary was pretty much used up. Time to get walking.

Incidentally, you don’t “hike” the Camino, you “walk” it. Not sure what the difference is, but it’s probably part of the subtle magic that works on you while you are on the Way.



Bacon and cheese sandwich and a Coke. Cape Finisterre in the far distance.




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Chocolate-filled breakfast cereal. It worked for me.



Running Lean: Part One

A motorcycle can be a pretty minimalist approach to transportation and I like that. Buy a good used 50 mpg bike for relatively little money, maintain it yourself, register and insure it for $150. Travel light.

Not really the North American way these days, but there was a time when that general approach to living was mostly what I knew.

In 1949 I was 5 years old and we lived just behind Elliott’s coal yard in a small cottage on a dirt road that led to the town beach on Pentucket Pond. My mother loved the beach.

But for my younger brother and I, a short walk through the back garden and into the the woods brought us to Mr. Bateman’s place, a 10′ x 14′ tar-paper shack. We called him Charlie. He was an old, slow-moving, WWI veteran who kept to himself, took care of himself and said little.

He had no car, no phone, no power, and no plumbing. Everything was dark. Kerosene lighting, coal stove, dark boards, black tar-paper walls and roof, old army blankets, and Charlie himself all in black with one of those heavy fabric vests that old men wore. One small window above a tiny makeshift table attached to the wall.

I was a bit afraid, not understanding Charlie and how he came to be there and what it meant, but there he was and there I was. My brother loved him easily and spent a lot of time shooting Charlie’s air gun, drawing cartoons at his table, and just hanging out.

The absolute best adventure was going hunting. Squirrel hunting. We’d hike down the abandoned railroad bed to a place in the woods Charlie liked. He had a shotgun and a big canvas bag with crossed rifles on it. The squirrels would go in the bigger part of the bag in the back. Our sandwiches and the shotgun shells would go in the smaller outer part. There were rules and only one of us could go with him at a time.


A bag like Charlie’s, but his was darker.

One morning my mother found Charlie slumped down on the back stairs, unconscious. He had tried to come up to the house for help. That had never happened before.

It was my first funeral. I was surprised how good he looked in the casket, considering he was dead. At the grave site an honor guard of veterans fired their rifles in the air in a three volley salute. It was so loud! Again, and again, and I realized Charlie must have been young once and there was a whole world of stuff I didn’t know about him, and now shots were being fired out of respect for him and I could hear a distant bugle, beautiful and clear.

He’s one of the very few people I remember from way back then, before I went off to first grade.

In the years after Charlie died, the shack came down and the Elliotts built a large new home overlooking the pond on the wooded knoll behind the cabin site.

Trivia: People per Bike by State

How many residents are there per registered motorcycle in the various states? I have wondered. I found enough data on the internet to calculate it, but then I found a site that already has a nice article.

You can check it out on Motley Fool.

The national average is 36 people per motorcycle.

Iowa is third with 18 people per motorcycle.

New Hampshire is second with 17.

South Dakota is first with only 12  inhabitants per bike. By the way, the Stugis, SD motorcycle rally draws about 1/2 million riders annually from all over the country. Bonafide bike country.


2015 Sturgis, SD Bike Rally Riders


It’s interesting that the warmer states have the least motorcycles per capita. I have no idea why. It should be the other way around but it isn’t. People with cold winters have more bikes.

But I think New Hampshire is too far out of first place for me to help much by buying a second motorcycle. It was a pretty good thought, though.

Down the Road

The old, hardwired part of my brain arrived genetically, a product of millions of years of evolution. It existed before agriculture and was used hunting and gathering. It knows how to carry all my possessions with me, to live light and free. It’s still there, operating in the background. There hasn’t been enough time to change it much.

That’s why a motorcycle feels natural. A minimal machine, carrying my gear down the road to the next good spot.

I can do civilization pretty well, but part of me objects to it and gets angry.

That’s why a regular dose of “the bike” is necessary. Even a photo does wonders.


Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels.




Suzuki VanVan 200


There’s a memorable scene in Out of Africa in which a band of Masai warriors comes trotting over the horizon into view carrying their weapons and we are given to understand that they can keep up their pursuit as long as required, day after day. Well, there is something immensely compelling about a performance that is clearly beyond normal human capabilities. I imagine our brains have been excited by this type of thing for countless millennia.

So compared to walking as our only means of getting around, a small motorcycle can almost be a transcendent thing. You can own it, maintain it, ride it easily and increase your range dramatically. Move around at 10-20 times the speed of a brisk walk. All the while carrying stuff, even another person.

When you get on your bike, your feet are flat on the ground and your eye can move from that ground all the way to the horizon, which is now only minutes away. Smell the grass and feel the air as you travel, listen to the engine working, watch the landscape and keep your balance, glance down at your feet gliding over the surface.

You aren’t disconnected from your natural habitat and your brain is comfortable with that. You are paying attention, applying yourself physically and mentally, and you have no time to think about other things. You have returned to your native self and you are okay.

On your minimalist motorcycle.

This primal machine of yours can’t have a lot of chrome or a lot of plastic, can’t be slick with a futuristic skin, can’t be too heavy to lift off the ground by yourself, can’t be a high speed machine, can’t sound like a chain saw and can’t cost too much.

It has to look good, feel good, sound good, work well, and be reliable and easy to maintain and repair.


2017 Suzuki VanVan 200


The Suzuki VanVan 200 looks like a bike worth considering as a simple, lightweight, dual sport motorcycle. 199cc air/oil cooled, fuel injected single, 30.5 inch seat height, 282 lb. curb weight, 54.5 inch wheelbase, 1.7 gallon tank, 16 hp @ 8000 rpm, $4599 MSRP. Comfy seat and cushy tires.

The word VanVan in Japanese means something like “keeps going on”.

Forward, of course.

After all, that’s the whole idea.


Cold Weather Riding: Part 4

Here in the middle of New Hampshire winter, it has actually warmed up a bit, hitting the mid 30’s F during the day. The roads are more or less bare and dry. Lovely riding weather!

But I know winter riding isn’t for everyone. If I had $16K or more invested in a showroom condition chrome goddess, for example, there might only be 3 or 4 worthy riding days a year.   More generally, though, most North American motorcycles are ridden for pleasure and pleasure rides are typically long, often a whole day. Winter is too cold for that.

Conventional wisdom assumes you will properly prep your bike for storage, squirrel it away in late fall, and then prep it again for riding in the spring. Even a serious enthusiast like Peter Egan of Cycle World keeps his Wisconsin garage door shut this time of year.

For these and many other reasons, winter riding is almost universally a non-starter. And that means I am definitely interested in doing it.

My winter prep is simple. Late last fall I changed the normal 20W50 oil to 10W40. Coated vulnerable parts with ACF50 aircraft corrosion inhibitor.  Snapped the big muffs over the handlebar controls. That’s it. Good to go.

By cold weather, I mean 10 degrees F overnight and 20 degrees or more when I start it. Nothing severe. But even with the lighter oil, the engine is pretty stiff cranking over. If I have enough time, I like to put the bike up on the center stand, start it, and then let it idle until it thoroughly warms up.


After the initial cold start, there is a big white vapor stream coming out the exhaust, but after it warms up the white puffs disappear. I usually make a few short trips during the day and the subsequent starts are more like normal warm-weather starts.

The spots on the pavement are frost droplets that melted and ran off the dark cover after the sun had been on it for awhile. Normally the bike is under a tarp/enclosure at the house we are building, but last night I left it in the parking lot behind our condo. I know where to park it so no space ranger will run over it in the dim pre-dawn light.

There is something very satisfying about firing up the trusty BMW, defying the cold. The bike is like medicine and road conditions can leave it sitting for days at a time and me in a funk. Sure, I can borrow my wife’s Infiniti and enjoy those heated seats and the “snow-mode” AWD traction, but the F650 is the thing that puts the happy magic on me. It’s what I need.

I do a lot of shuttling back and forth between the new house and the condo. It’s about 1/4 mile. For these brief trips I don’t need any special clothing no matter what the temperature, just what I would normally wear outside. Plus helmet of course.

A serious winter ride for me is 20-25 minutes at 25 degrees, and I dress warm.

The head gets a close fitting black balaclava under the full face modular black HJC helmet with internal sun shade. When stopped, the clear visor can fog up so I try to exhaust my breath out the bottom of the helmet. Worst case I can partially raise the visor to see while stopped then drop it when I get under way. The sun shade seems to help with the fogging, somehow altering the air flow in front of my face.

Here’s a secret: The full face modular helmet is like sticking your head into an insulated case and it’s amazing how a warm head will tame the cold. Huddled inside their cars, you just know people are wondering what’s wrong with you, out there in the brutal cold. For some reason a snowmobile rider (also wearing a helmet) makes more sense to them, but I’d rather be me with my short, useful rides.

The torso gets a cotton T shirt, a long sleeved mock turtle neck UnderArmor layer, a light wool long sleeved layer,  a second UnderArmor layer, a turtle neck long sleeved cotton pullover, a light down jacket and finally my windproof warm-up jacket.  Seven relatively thin layers.

By the way, bright sunshine in the cold is worth almost 10 degrees F of comfort.

Legs have tight fitting UnderArmor bottoms and Duluth canvas work pants with cargo pockets.

Feet get ordinary winter socks and my Skarpa insulated, waterproof hiking boots.  I have good circulation in my feet.

For the hands, I use an UnderArmor mitten liner glove, down mittens, and the handlebar muffs. My hand circulation is not that great, so they can get chilled on a long ride. Mittens make it harder to operate the directional button and especially the high beam switch, but the clutch, front brake and throttle are manageable and not a safety issue.

It sounds like a lot to deal with, but working on the house I already have a a lot of it on. The thing is, this configuration works for me. I can ride in comfort with confidence, knowing I will be fine. Worst case I feel a little chill near the end of the ride. I prefer the low tech approach and have so far resisted electric heat of any kind on my short trips. Winter touring would be another story.

Surprise! Wind chill is mostly irrelevant in winter riding.  Why? You are already moving through the air at 40-50 mph and that’s typically much more than any breezes in the forecast. So whether the wind is blowing or not, you have already covered that issue with your gear. Winter wind briefly becomes an issue when you are stopped and have your gloves off to organize things or work on the bike. Fueling it, etc.

Keep in mind that cold tires don’t grip the pavement as well as warm tires, and the road can have a light dusting of sand or salt, or patches of black ice in the morning from snowbanks melting onto the roadway and freezing overnight. You have to ride more conservatively. Extensive black ice is a show stopper, by the way. It is fortunate, in one sense, that the suspension is stiffer in the cold. It offers a bumpy reminder of the wintry conditions. But with the upright F650, I can easily shift my weight onto the pegs and glide over anything.

I don’t see any other bikes on the road, and I do mean none, when the temperature drops below 40F and stays there. Winter riding is apparently a secret pleasure. What is the secret? If you have a minimalist attitude, warm clothes, flexible schedule, the need to make a lot of short purposeful trips and a bike that weathers well, you can keep the motorcycle magic going all winter long.