Iron Butt 1000

I want one of these license plate holders. I don’t know why.


All I had to do to qualify for membership in the esteemed “Iron Butt” Association (and get my plate holder) was ride from New Hampshire near Lake Winnipesaukee down through Hartford, skirt New York City via I-287 into New Jersey, take I-78 over near Harrisburg, PA and then down 15 to the Sunoco Station on the old Baltimore Pike Road in Gettysburg. Turn around and do the same thing  in reverse. Over 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. Then send a check for $49 plus copies of the ride documentation.

How tough could that be?IronButtSaddleSoreLeg1 copy


I left home at 3:45 am on October 15 and got back at 3:32 am on the 16th, almost one day later. Interstates all the way, cruising at 60-75 mph. Why did it take me so long? Google Maps predicted a little over 8 hours each way. Let’s say 16.5 hours of riding.

The official start and end correspond to the first and last stops for gas, not at my front door. I gassed up first at 4:03 AM on the 15th and then finally at 3:06 AM on the 16th, for a total elapsed time of 23 hours and 3 minutes.

The F650 runs about 6% slower than the Google Maps estimate for cars. That’s an extra hour. I saw the main flow of car traffic doing 80 in a 55 zone, more than once. I didn’t feel safe trying to keep up with that but I also had too much company in the right hand lane in the form of semi’s, pickups towing trailers, RVs and some just inexplicably slow drivers.  I got comfortable passing people doing less than 65.

I refueled 10 times, riding for over two hours and 125-130 miles between fill-ups, plus an extra stop near the end. I averaged about 20 minutes off the bike by the time I refueled, took a photo of the receipt next to the odometer, used the restroom, ate and drank something, switched out clothing and gear, reset the odometer, etc. So maybe 3.5 hours total for stops.

I lost 30 minutes on the first leg due to very poor visibility in the dark, foggy mist. Almost turned around. Fortunately, there was no traffic and I knew that section very well. Probably another 30 minutes total for the rest of the ride for the same reason, off and on. I rode about 11 hours in the dark and there was some misting occasionally. It’s particularly hard to see when lights are hitting beads of moisture on the face shield. I could clear it somewhat by tipping the helmet down into the slipstream.

Another 30 minutes for stop and go traffic from an accident and some single lane construction zones.

I lost another 30 minutes on the way back when Google Maps re-routed me north to avoid I-287 for some reason. I wound up riding about 1040 miles, by Google measurements. My odometer total was 1078 miles.


Final Fill-up




I knew at 60 degrees and little sun the heat was going to slowly drain out of me and after two hours or more I would be too cold to continue. So I got a Gerbing heated vest but I hadn’t gotten a controller and the vest was too hot on straight 12 V so I only used it a little. I will need the controller to keep my core “temperature neutral” while riding for hours in cold weather.

I used my summer armored Revit jacket in Pennsylvania where it was warm and sunny, but wore my three-season Sedici with more layers for the cold, dark northern sections. UnderArmor thermal underwear, of course. I mostly used my summer armored riding gloves although I did use my “Randy” (from A Christmas Story) down mittens with wool mitten liners for the first few hours.

I added some red and white reflective strips on the back of my helmet. Never had any close calls. People could see me.


I rode the venerable BMW classic F650.

I had installed a new chain and sprockets for the trip and those ran fine. The Metzler Tourance tires had about 13,000 miles on them but were still okay, the rear one getting pretty close to minimum tread depth.

Installed an EZ Pass transponder on the back of the windscreen. I went through about 6 toll booths with it during the trip.

I had the USB adapter plugged in to my Battery Tender outlet and a phone holder on the handlebars, but with the mist and the simplicity of the route, I kept the phone on my belt for most of the ride.


Intense riding for distance isn’t my thing. I prefer to meander, take scenic routes, and generally make use of the bike as cheap transportation. But I did want to get a feel for extensive highway riding and I find I am comfortable with it as long as there isn’t too much traffic and the road is good, which precludes going near big cities.

Riding at night is not attractive simply because I can’t see the road well enough, not only for spotting animals, potholes and debris, but also to see the arc of the road way ahead. It’s unsettling at speed when the road begins to curve in a way that was not anticipated.

At one low point on the ride I thought about retiring to a small scooter with my poser’s “World’s Toughest Riders” plate holder. But a day after getting home I started wondering what the next big adventure might be.

Does vacillating between “I’ll never do this again” and “I can’t wait for the next time” mean you have it just about right?


Home at 3:30 AM, but I never got drowsy.



My Maine Ride

The plan involved riding the F650 from Lake Winnipesaukee, NH to Millinocket, Maine, and then into the woods to the family-owned cabin near Mount Katahdin. Sleeping the night and then returning the following day. A total round trip of 585 paved miles and 40 on gravel, as it turned out.

I traveled light, but I wanted a little more luggage than the top box, so I used a zip-top, water repellent camp bag strapped on with bungee cords. It worked well enough and cost nothing.


Leaving for Maine at 7:20 AM

It’s a great feeling heading out in the cool of early morning for a multi-day adventure. You, your gear and your bike. Rolling down the road, sort of self sufficient, taking a break from your normal routine.


In MapQuest, I selected the “Avoid Highways” option and got the route shown. Google Maps gave me a slightly different route but I liked this one better. You don’t use any  interstates in either case. The route was good although I ran into some serious road construction between Fryeburg, ME and Bridgeton, ME. Now in hindsight, I see the Google Maps route avoided that bad stretch. Oops!

I roughly knew where I was going and I looked at the names of towns I would be passing through, and headed for them via the road signs I encountered along the way. This worked quite well with an occasional look at the map.

If you are navigating using the “towns” method, be aware of three kinds of towns. Towns you are passing through, towns you are turning at, and towns you are turning at just before actually entering the town center. I should have turned towards Skowhegan just before Farmington, but wound up riding straight through Farmington and had to jog over to get back on track quite a bit north of Skowhegan. Didn’t add much mileage but the roads weren’t as good.


Just kidding. I encountered this mud hole deep in the woods a few hundred feet from the cabin. It was worse than it looks because the ruts were maybe 8 inches deep and there was no shoulder to get around it. It was a bit slick, but not soupy. I couldn’t ride down in the rut because my foot pegs would have dragged, so I rode the highest, widest flat part but if I had to put my feet down, they were over ruts, so I would have tipped over. I was tired and had a cloud of deer flies on me. I should have stopped and studied it more and cleared some sticks off it, because running it straightaway was risky and I was deep in the woods alone.

I made it.

I lashed the bike to a tree for the night, worried that a bear might tip it over trying to get at some crumbs, letting fuel and oil drain out onto the ground while I slept. But the night was uneventful.

Coming out was easier. I was rested and the deer flies weren’t around. I started the bike about 6:45 AM. Noticed fresh moose tracks in the gravel as I got going. Later, saw a young moose disappearing around a bend ahead.


Mount Katahdin in the distance, northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail

By the way, I got less than 30 mpg in the woods. Carried an extra 1.5 gallons just in case.

This bridge was pretty decayed. Can’t ride the middle in any case. And no side rails. You have to know what the bike is going to do, same as you would if you were walking across it, because if you lurch toward the edge, you can only hope you wind up dumping onto the bridge and not over the side.


The bridges are designed to handle large flooding during spring runoff, so in the summer you are going to fall a long way before you hit something. Hopefully water and not rock. This was taken from the bridge.


The 30 mile stretch from Millinocket to Milo is through forest. No buildings or services of any kind. I was zipping along when all of a sudden a deer appeared on the shoulder ahead to my right. Very noticeable velvet rack. He started running parallel to my travel and I eventually went by him. Thankfully he didn’t dart out in front of me. Then I noticed another deer a few hundred feet ahead on the same side of the road. I thought, “Pay attention!” I hadn’t even considered deer at 9 AM.

Going south I missed my “turn” at Turner, ME. Duh. Wound up in Auburn and meandered home via Sebago Lake, Cornish, and Ossipee, NH and Wolfeboro. This latter route was actually an alternate proposed by Google, so it was fine. However, the “towns” method of navigating failed me this time. Too many little towns and a cobweb of little roads.

I just bought an $11 on-board charger so I can navigate with the iPhone next time.

Well, the bike now has 12,850 miles on it. Had 3600 when I got it two years ago.

I can’t really explain why someone would want to ride a motorcycle all day long, but I am already itching to get going on the next big adventure.


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.

The $2500 Motorcycle: Part Two

Inexpensive Motorcycles

I would love to buy this 1997 BMW F650. It’s currently on Craigslist New Hampshire, listed for $2250, 15,000 miles, good condition, new tires, battery, chain, sprockets, with minor scratches and a slightly cracked windscreen (near a mounting screw).

Unfortunately, I already own one! And I haven’t yet figured out how to make a case that I need two of them. Maybe because I don’t need two of them. I don’t have the space, time, money or rationale for it. I just like the idea of two. Or maybe I just like the fact that for $2250 I can buy a perfectly good motorcycle that is very capable on the roads of New Hampshire. Going further, it is arguably the ideal machine for someone like me, all things considered.


First, a dual sport works well for me. The suspension has more travel than a typical street bike, making it better on rough roads. You sit upright, making it easy to take your weight off the seat when a big bump appears. You can ride it standing on very rough going. Like an SUV, it projects a satisfying utilitarian nature.

15,000 miles is not a lot for this engine. In fact the piston has only recently seated itself fully in the cylinder. Collect the last bit of swarf off the magnetic drain plug, put in some synthetic oil if you want and you are good to go to Alaska and back. Or anywhere else.

BMW parts are readily available, no matter where you live. I go online at and pick what I need off the specific parts diagrams for my machine.

This bike has a “progressive shock” installed and the owner quotes the seat height at 31 inches, which is an inch lower than mine. 31 would actually fit a 30-inch inseam slightly better than the 32, although I can manage 32 just fine.

The F650 weighs about 450 lbs. with fuel. It’s sort of in the lower middle weight range. An XT250 is about 300 and a big Harley maybe 750. Light weight is good when the bike is stopped, maneuvering slowly on rough ground, picking up a dropped bike, transporting it, shipping it, etc. Heavy weight is good in the wind, smoothing out rough pavement, carrying more stuff, and is manageable when the bike is moving. The F650 is more fun off the interstates but it can manage 75 mph if needed. Use earplugs if you want to make a fast run to Memphis for coffee.


A 1997 is going to have some old rubber parts on it and these will need to be replaced, especially inside the carburetor, depending on what has already been done to it. So you need to be able to work on the bike yourself. Having a dealer or other mechanic work on it will be costly.

The owner didn’t confirm, but the center stand may have been removed if in fact the rear has been lowered. The stand would have needed to be modified and it may have been easier to discard it. The stand is useful when servicing the chain and working on the tires and on the bike in general. Something to consider.

I’d replace the windscreen, possibly with a taller one.

My bike came with a top box, and I think it is important to have one. This bike doesn’t. Ideally find one used for $200 or so.


If I had it to do all over again and hadn’t bought the bike I presently own, I’d be going to look at this one. It’s about 100 miles away.



Motorcycle Economics, Part Three: Self Maintenance Basics


My Clymer manual has a nice section on the basics of working on a motorcycle. It’s well worth reading, at least enough to know what’s in there. I’m guessing a good shop manual will have a section like that in it, no matter what bike you have. If not, you can Google Motorcycle Mechanic Basics, or something similar, to get a feel for the initial issues.

What about the possibility of inadvertently making the motorcycle unsafe to ride? I think this is unlikely. A professional mechanic that gets interrupted and fails to complete something is probably just as big a threat. Is your front wheel going to fall off, for example? No. Take a look at how the wheel is attached to the bike. The axle has about an inch of thread on it. You insert the axle through the wheel bearings and screw it into the left fork. The right side sits in a cradle that has a cap with 4 lock nuts holding it on. A glance at it shows you that it is all intact. Even if everything loosened up, that shaft has to back way out before it would fall off. You would notice it. All you have to do is look at the axle cap and you can see the 4 nuts in place and the end of the axle even with the side of the cradle. All is well.


But it should never loosen up, because you have tightened the fasteners sufficiently to prevent that. Which brings up what is arguably the key issue of bike maintenance. How much do I tighten the fasteners? The simple answer is “a bit more than is needed to keep them from loosening.” In reality, every situation is unique and you are going to have to deal with them accordingly. It helps a lot of you have enough experience to have, sometime in your life, stripped out a screw thread, broken a bolt, and had something fall apart because you didn’t tighten it enough. You would have acquired a certain amount of feel for it. Your brain tells you when to stop tightening.

You can buy one or more torque wrenches and tighten according to the specs listed in your manual. I don’t have a torque wrench, but I plan to get one if I ever do anything inside the engine. I do consider myself to have a pretty good feel for tightening fasteners, though.

You need to pay attention to what materials you are dealing with. For example, the oil drain plug in the sump of the F650 is steel and it threads into the aluminum engine casing. The published torque specs for this fastener were too high and a lot of bikes wound up with stripped out threads in the engine case. BMW came up with a repair kit to replace the damaged threads, using a thread insert. I tighten the plug without a torque wrench and haven’t had any trouble with it loosening up. In fact, I go by feel for all the work I have done. If I were working on a racing bike, I would make use of a torque wrench because higher speeds and vibrations are more demanding.

Aluminum is a lot softer than steel, and hardened steel is stronger than ordinary steel. Cap screws, for example, have a system of marking on them to indicate the level of strength.

The F650 engine is attached to the frame with cap screws and plastic insert locknuts. The plastic deforms as the bolt is threaded through the nut and if the nut comes loose the plastic prevents it from spinning all the way off. The front axle cradle cap uses deformed metal locknuts, meaning the outside end of the nut threads is deformed, creating an interference fit. These nuts will also not spin off the stud if they become loose.

The body panels are attached with large head diameter screws about an inch long. They thread into clip nuts attached to the frame or to a panel. The natural uneven matching of the components creates resistance to coming loose, and you would spot a loose screw long before it fell out. I haven’t had any trouble with these screws loosening up, or any other screws for that matter.


You don’t want your chain to separate while you are riding. It could jam up your rear wheel and cause an accident. When I replaced my chain, I installed one with a master link. I won’t do that again, because I don’t like the little clip that holds the master link together. There is no backup if that clip falls off. And if it falls off the master link will work it’s way apart and the chain will separate. It’s a bit harder to install a new endless chain, but I think it is the way to go.


I’m still in the mode of reassuring that working on your bike won’t make it unsafe to ride. If you look at the F650 rear wheel, the axle has a plastic lock nut holding it on. The nut isn’t going to spin off and it is entirely visible. The axle is captured in the other directions by the mounting, so it can’t separate entirely from the frame. It might get a little loose but the chain tension adjustment screws keep it in place.


The triple tree can’t even begin to separate from the bike because the locknut is essentially in your face at the top of the triple tree. It’s possible one of the tubes could loosen in the triple tree clamps, but there are two clamps on each side and you would notice something wrong because the top of the tubes are visible and you would see the tube sliding up out of the top clamp.

The same situation applies to the handlebars, in that you are looking right at them and would notice anything loose long before it fell apart.