Cold Weather Riding: Part 6


Some people drive up from Boston to go skiing at Gunstock. They look over as an old BMW pulls in with a pair of snow shoes strapped on the back. “Whaaaaa?”


It’s alarming. No one rides a motorcycle to a ski area in February.

“What does that guy know that I don’t know?”

For one thing, it’s only 1/4 mile from my house to the ski area. I don’t get cold on a three minute ride.

I disappear into the woods.


Steep Part


Half way up Cobble Mountain, I notice some critters have been sharing this section of the trail. But their tracks veer off towards this shelter:


A warm south facing rock overhang, dry pine needle floor, no mortgage.


Snow-coated Alton Bay in the distance.


Gunstock Downhill Ski Runs


Panorama High Speed Quad running full capacity in the distance.

Back home an hour and a half later. Hot tea. Then, more hot tea.

Cold Weather Riding: Part 5

The F650 has been accumulating that white powdery, road salt, metal-eating,  winter worn look. It’s 33 degrees, sun is shining, roads are dry. That’s right! Time to head for the local car wash.

But why not do it with a bit more comfort?


Check these out. Got them for Christmas.  They come in a foil pouch and as soon as the air hits them they start producing heat. How? It’s a blend of iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal and vermiculite. Sort of a very slow-acting, self-igniting gunpowder, I imagine.


I have been using an LLBean wool mitten liner inside an old pair of down ski mittens. I put the Yaktrax pouch just on the outside of the wool mitten above my fingertips.  With the wool mitten already inside the down one, it’s easy to slip the pouch in-between and get it where you want it.

Sure enough, I could feel the heat as I set off down the road. My face was feeling cold until I realized my face shield wasn’t down all the way. After that it was all cozy.

At the car wash do-it-yourself bay, I took the mittens and helmet off and put on a lighter pair of gloves to handle the wash equipment.

A nice thing about having the heat in your mittens is you can afford to get your hands cold performing a task that requires your fingers out in the open, like putting 12 quarters into the wash machine. You get relief as soon as the mittens go back on.

I use up my 3 minutes with prewash, soap, wax and rinse. I try not to blast away near the wheel and suspension bearings. Some places you want the grease to stay. I wipe down the bike. I’m on my way on a clean machine.

Do the hand warmers work? I’m riding back into the driveway thinking I’d like to stay out longer. Why not. My hands are fine.

Let’s see now, how far south do I need to ride in the cold before I find 50-degree weather? It’s been on my mind.



Last Ride

It’s  just after Christmas, sunny and in the mid forties. That’s right. Time for a motorcycle circumnavigation of Lake Winnipesaukee. Quite likely the last such ride in 2016, by anyone.


Alton Bay, already frozen over.


The F650 loves cool weather.


Route 28 north to Wolfeboro. White Mountain National Forest in the distance.


Big lake house under construction. Just the top of it visible.


A bay on the big lake, north of Wolfeboro

There are actually some guys in those bob houses. Recovering from Christmas.

Street 750

The idea of a motorcycle can be just what you want it to be. You can even attach a sense of well-being to it. “I can get on my bike and ride and be okay. Life is good.”  Why undercut that idea with negatives?

On the other hand, the real bike you own doesn’t hide negatives, it presents them to you in highlighted fashion. If it doesn’t start, you are stranded. And lucky to be just stranded. The top-heavy beast didn’t fall over and break your leg as well. (The kick-stand has to be up to start it.) Not to mention dangerous non-cancelling directionals, messy chain lube, too heavy in the driveway or too light on the highway, decaying rubber parts, leaks, etc.

So even though I own a great bike and have no intention of replacing it, it’s still enjoyable to conjure up the carefree, perfect-fit experience of an optimal motorcycle.

That’s how the Harley Davidson Street 750 came to my attention. Not when it first came out and I dismissed it, but now after riding the F650 for over 11,000 miles and also having seen some slightly custom Street versions like the one below:


Harley Davidson Street 750

Compared to the F650, I like the lower center of gravity, lower seat height, belt drive, cast wheels, tubeless tires, low horizontal tank, good looking quiet 2-into-1 exhaust, simpler rear suspension, the advantages of a newer bike made in the USA and a nearby dealer. But what really makes this bike appealing is the engine.

Like a lot of imported bikes, the F650 doesn’t begin to develop any torque until 3000 RPM, so I have to rev it and slip the clutch to get it going. Typical. But the Street’s fuel injected V-twin is already producing torque at 2000 RPM. I like that. Low-down torque is in fact a hallmark of the Harley Davidson brand.

I would be able to loaf along on the Street at lower RPMs in situations that don’t require a lot of power, situations that would nonetheless have the F650 staggering a bit, requiring a downshift into a buzzier gear.

And I’m thinking the new counter-balanced V-twin is smoother than my single, even though the F650 is arguably the smoothest big single out there.

With greater engine displacement, the Street has more roll-on power at highway speeds. Where the F650 powerband leaves off, the Street keeps on going into higher RPMs. You have the horses to go, and that little bit of extra weight, longer and lower, makes you more planted on the pavement.

But a credible fantasy should have some reality in it. From a big Harley point of view, the Street is merely an introduction into the proper range of HD motorcycles. It’s not even as manly as the lowly Iron 883. I don’t care, but it affects resale. And I would prefer a slightly taller seat and the pegs a little more under me. I have yet to see a suitable luggage setup on the Street.

Even though the Street 750 is about half the cost of a “real” Harley Davidson, it’s still three times what I paid for the ’97 F650 about three years ago.  Also, I can maintain the BMW myself.

Remarkably then, all reality considered, especially money, the bike I really want is the bike I already have.

Still, using that old mental magic, I can skip over cost, make some superficial modifications, and wind up with a rather optimal incarnation of the approachable middleweight motorcycle.




The fantasy is working!






Flashing Blue Lights

I have a problem with 35 mph speed limits.


The traffic is typically moving at 40-44 mph and my ’97 F650 doesn’t like that range. In 3rd gear, there is enough of a buzz to notice. In 4th gear, I am lugging. Uphill at that speed 3rd is better with a little load on the engine and 4th is not possible. Downhill, 4th is doable. But on the flat at 42, the ride is just not as pleasant as it is at other speeds.

If there is no traffic in my lane, I can run slow in 3rd or fast in 4th. And until a few days ago, I got away with the occasional fast 4th. That’s right, the flashing blue lights, embedded in a string of oncoming cars.

I immediately pulled over and removed my full face helmet in a mental bid for the “harmless geezer gaff” scenario.

49 mph. Born in 1944, right there on my license. Officer in his twenties chuckled and gave me a warning. And then a little more chuckling. Didn’t even require me to retrieve my registration from under the seat.

I don’t like that the geezer gambit worked so effortlessly.

On Trails

In the early 1950’s I read a series of worn-out library books on early American heroes including Daniel Boone, who blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky, a route that was eventually followed by over 200,000 settlers.

Now 60 years later, I’m reading On Trails, by Robert Moor and learning that the woods of North America were loaded with trails long before any Europeans arrived. The land that had already supported a vast native culture for thousands of years was covered with trails.

There is 13,000 year old evidence of early Asian-descent North Americans in the Paisley Caves of Oregon and from Montana’s Clovis child, but the time span doesn’t really sink in for me, although it’s starting to. What were these people doing all this time? They were continually moving over the land, for one thing.

All over North America there were hundreds of tribes we can now name, each utilizing very large tracts of land. The Cherokees alone covered the area now occupied by four states: Georgia, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina.

Moving with one foot in line with the other, a typical Indian footpath was only 5-6 inches wide and soft moccasins typically landed on spots that were already flat. Little crushing of the natural texture of the land. Trails were marked with broken twigs and the positions of sticks.  Natives could read these signs and even send messages up and down the trail using them. But the paths were nearly invisible to Euro-Americans. The woods were impenetrable to newcomers only in the sense that you could easily get lost in them.

In fact, the forests were historically managed by the natives. They burned them regularly, eliminating undergrowth and preserving plants and shrubs that were useful to them and the local animal population. Europeans marveled at the “natural” openness of the woods, almost like parks, thinking the land only needed their vision to develop it properly.

Existing indigenous use of the land and the trails was obscured by the untouched appearance. The newcomers naturally thought it was empty, pristine wilderness, new land to be claimed. But it was definitely being used already and used in ecologically sound ways.

Now, according to Moor, most of the paved-over roads in the USA are located on top of Native American trails. Over the recent centuries of expanding European-style culture, the trails have gradually been “improved” into the roads we use today.


I75 runs the length of Michigan on top of 5 Indian Trails


US Route 11 in Virginia runs along the Great Indian Warpath, or Seneca Trail, part of a network of trails that ran from upper New York State to Alabama.

There tends to be an optimal path though the landscape, depending on the purpose, and many such trails are apt to stay put indefinitely.

So now I’m liking the idea of back-roads motorcycle rides,  the feeling of moving over the landscape in a very natural way along pathways that are quite possibly thousands of years old. And the human scale of a motorcycle seems right on.

On the other hand, when I more fully assimilate the idea of a vast, valid, pre-existing indigenous culture, and to some extent debunk the traditional Euro-American view of North America, I can only be sharply dismayed by the experience of Native Americans over the last many centuries.

Note: Every year now about 25,000 bikers attend the Trail of Tears Commemorative Motorcycle Ride across the Alabama section of the trail followed in 1838-39 when the Cherokee Nation was forced to give up their land east of the Mississippi and move to Oklahoma. The two-abreast stream of bikes is about 25 miles long.

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.