Monday, December 22, 2008

Slaying the Dragon Vacation 2007

Stan, Lisa, Dawg and I took a ride to go to a NASCAR race an NHRA race and to ride the Tail of the Dragon. There are so many great roads in the area it would be impossible for me to list them all. Just grab a local map when you get there and you see several loops that make for a great one day ride. There is also a great campground that is made for bikers by the name of Iron Horse Campgrounds. Also while in that neck of woods anybody who calls themselves a motorcyclist has to stop at the Wheels Through Time Museum just a short ride from the campgrounds. One of the nice things about the campgrounds it is centrally located for all of the great rides in the area. OK now that I've gave you some great ideas about what to do and see there, on to the ride.

I've traveled with Stan an Lisa many times over the years. Those are some stories for another time but, Dawg and I just started traveling together two years ago, while being friends for many years, since he got his SE Road Glide. He just couldn't ride his Heritage Softail all those miles with his bad back.

The plan for the first day was to do 600 miles so we could take it a bit easier the rest of the time and enjoy the adventure. With Stan an Lisa along it is always and adventure! Riding interstate is that necessary evil you have to do to make time. Other then the blistering heat and late afternoon thunderstorm there isn't much to talk about. The fun began when we stopped for our last gas and to find a place to stay for the night.

Asking the cashier where a motel was she directed us down the road about six miles to the next exit. Now before I go further I like to support the small mom an pop places. They don't have all the glitz and glitter of the chains but what they lack in that they more often then not offer a more of a home feeling. We pull up and our first thought is will this place keep us dry? Little did we know this little place was going to be one of the nicer little motels we stayed. It is here that we learn the first of many lessons this great country has to offer.

Lesson #1: Dry Counties. In all of my travels I had never been in such a place. Walking across the parking lot to the little gas station to learn that they don't sell beer much less liquor was a complete shock. We looked but nowhere was there any cold beer in the coolers. With a puzzled look on our face Stan an I ask the nice young lady where is the beer? She just looked at us and says "y'all not from around here are you?" I don't know if it was our Midwestern accent that gave it away or what appeared to her to be a really stupid question or the dumb look on our face that made her ask that. She tells us that up the road at the next exit, the one we just LEFT, had package beer for sale. Since we planned ahead, and give Dawg credit for this one since he was smart enough to throw a bottle of Crown Royal in his bags, we just walked back to the motel and emptied that sucker.

Day two found use pulling into Bristol Tennessee for the NASCAR night race. We had a prime camping spot right across the street in what turns out to be a gravel junk yard lot. I kid you not, this place use to be a salvage yard but they figured out they could make lot more money turning it into a camp ground for the race fans and charge a plenty for it to boot. It is here we meet some "Gool 'Ol Boys" in every sense of the word.  They walk up and introduce themselves and the next words out of their mouths was "want a beer?" 372570-R1-011-4_006 This is something that we as riders are kind of use to now. Back in the day people never walked up to you while traveling on a bike. Now it's completely different an you almost feel rude for excusing yourself so you can get on your way. These guys where a bunch of great, funny and friendly people. They shared their great food with us each evening and refused to take any money. They even let us get in the race pool and Dawg took top price the first night and second prize pot the next night. Oh and they thought we talked funny too. 

The race was something else. I've been to a lot of big NHRA race and even Indy a few times including the Brickyard last summer. But this place was over the top. This whole town comes out in droves to support this spectacle. While returning from making a run for beer, food and something to keep it in we got caught in heavy traffic. That in of itself wasn't that big of deal but the people lining the side of the road 7 to 10 deep was. Once back at the camp site the guys told us about the parade of haulers that was getting ready to start. To get all the race trucks inside the raceway they all park out of town. Then when the times comes it's one great big log parade of trucks blowing their horns while giving a bit of a light show from the rigs. For over and hour this went on it was pretty cool to watch. The racing itself was good and little Lisa even managed to get Dale Jr.'s autograph not once not twice but three times over the course of the three days we were there.

Hitting the rode again we make our way to the Tail via Maggy Valley to stop at the Wheels Through Time. 372569-R1-026-11A_010 If I would have known how cool this place was I would have planned to be able to spend more then just a couple of hours there. The owner likes to have fun and the best part is all of the bikes run and for the most part are in as is condition. That doesn't stop him from riding and beating on them. It was as much fun just sitting there watching the owner rip around on the old iron as it was inside the place. Bring lots of memory for your camera because you'll need it.         


It was while we were here that we learned of the Iron Horse campgrounds. It is also were we learned where the closest place for drink was. See we learned lesson #1 well and now had made sure we didn't go into the evening with nothing to drink. Funny how you make your ride so at some point you go by these places so you can stock up. Here at home we have places to drink around almost every corner. 372569-R1-010-3A_004However down here in the deep south they have Baptist churches around every corner. Just finding a bar is rare to find then they only sell beer. So when we were on one of our rides and we rode by the bar that just happens to have great smoked food we about couldn't believe our eyes. It doesn't get much better then smoked southern Bar-B-Que with a cold beer on a hot day as you sit on the patio and watch the fish swim by in the nice crystal clear stream. Can you tell we were having a fantastic time?


After three great days of riding the Tail and all of the fun roads around it the time had come to make our way home slowly. The plan was to stay in Nashville the first night out. That was the plan anyway. We are not ten miles from the campgrounds when I look in my mirror and see no one behind me. My first thought was someone had screwed up and went off the road. These roads are tight and if your not paying attention it will happen. Needless to say I was relieved to ride back and find all of them standing long side the road but wondering WTF? Once I get parked and walk up to them I see what is wrong. There, standing by Stan's bike, I see the problem. His carburetor is only attached to the bike by the throttle cables and fuel hose. 372571-R1-054-25A_024Great here we are in BFE with a broken bike. There is a gas station down the hill so Stan coasts to the station where we manage to get the carb mounted with some zip ties and small bungee cord I had. There is a small motorcycle shop, Wheelers Performance that we make our way to, even though it is the other direction then we are headed. Ken welds the broken mounting bracket together for us and off we go.

It is clear our plan is shot now and we just ride trying to make it at least a few hundred miles on two lane roads before we call it a night. Here in this little town we find a place to do some laundry and some good food. It is here that we also find out just what a palace the first motel was.

I don't know which was worse. The roaches that didn't run when you turn the light on or the meth heads that called the place home. After doing the dirty clothes we head for the roachtel, well sort of. Have you ever tried to lift a Bagger off a tree root after the rider high centers it on one? Dawg high centered his Road Glide on this hidden tree root and I mean it was stuck. It took three of us to lift it off and get the wheels back on the ground. Funny as hell but no fun at all. Back at the roachtel the meth heads were in high gear. We chain the bikes together then sleep with one eye open.

In the morning we find a nice family restaurant to have breakfast. It is while topping off the tanks Stan notices the brackets are broke on his carb again. Like before people come from everywhere to help and we manage to cobble it together. One of the guys who stopped to help told us of a Harley shop in this little town that is on our way. We are instructed to look for a old biker who wears this "goofy hat" all the time. His name is Newby.

Newby is one of those rare finds you come across as you travel. DSC00611 And if there has to be a bright spot in a motorcycle breaking down this would be it. We pull up to the place around noon, the place is locked up tight. If someone was going to break into this place it would have been easier to go through the wall instead of this door. Newby is a master with steel and a torch. As we stand there wondering what to do next this nice little lady comes out of the beauty salon next door and and asks, "y'all lookin' for Newby?" After answering yes she states "he probably up at his mothers havin' lunch." Not one minute later and young man pulls up and asks the very same question. He too tells us he is probably up at his mothers having lunch. He offers to go tell Newby we need his help. Sure enough with in ten minutes here rides up the man and he is in deed wearing that "goofy hat". The hat is really the liner out of a hard hat. And as we would learn from pictures on his walls he has worn this thing all of his life, he must be in his early 60s now.

After he unlocks the padlock on the door, then slides this massive steel rod and move this lever the door opens. It is here we learn of just how lucky were are to have met Newby. Inside this large barn are motorcycle and parts hanging everywhere.  DSC00582 Two stories full of parts of everything you can think of. Side cars, pipes, tanks, wheels, filing cabinets full of gaskets, new tires and who knows what else. There are old bikes and newer bikes he has owned over the year. I mean there is stuff everywhere. Newby gets to work making a new bracket for Stan's carb and even digs up a new seal for the manifold. The stories he told of his travels of over a million miles were funny and you could just tell this guy loves Harley's. In fact he doesn't even own a car himself, only his wife does who of course rides too. After getting Stan back together Stan asks how much he owes him. Newby says showing his one tooth, "give me five bucks." Unreal. So Stan flips him a twenty telling him his stories were worth that. That bracket is still doing it's job to this day. Needless to say we voted Newby the highlight of the trip.

The rest of the trip was uneventful as we made our way home. 372571-R1-002-00A_001 Stopping in Indy to take in a couple of days of nitro at the NHRA US Nationals. While on the way home I look in my mirror again to find it empty again. This time the air filter cover fell off of Stan's bike which was a simple fix about a hundred miles from home. I swear every time I ride with those two it's an adventure.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Hate Snow

This is what us here in Iowa were greeted with this morning as we looked out the window drinking a nice hot cup of coffee. I snorted coffee out my nose while I watched this unfold in front of me.

Every year I dislike winter more then the year before. Often asking myself why I put up with this stuff? But the truth is I like living in Iowa verse some of the rat races in warmer climates. I got to admit though, right now a tent in the middle of the south west desert sounds mighty inviting.

Stay warm!


Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Bare Truth Part Deux

One of the things I've really enjoyed about this blog is reading about what other people are doing and the places they have been or are at. It never fails that someone's post brings back memories both good and bad of my motorcycle travels. You people bring these memories back and I want to share them with you from time to time. Most of them will not be bad ones like this one though. Case in point, Dan's (aka Irondad) post over at Musings of an Intrepid Commuter about this tire. Thanks Irondad for the use of your photo. Bad Tire

 I’m 18 and I’ve had my first street bike for all of six weeks. Doing what normal 18 year old males do I am laying rubber ever chance I get. Then one day I decide I’m going to ride to the big city for a concert. I never made it to the show. About 110 miles from home and just 25 miles from the show I crash on the interstate highway at about 60MPH. I swear I’ve never been so scared in my life. Next thing I know my bike fish tails left, then right hard, then back left even harder, sliding out from under neath me then pitching me through the handle bars headed for the ditch. I remember hearing the glass break in my right mirror as I’m flying by it. The next thing I know I’m up chasing my bike which has stopped with the back half still in the right lane. Thankfully the car behind me wasn't tailgating and stops to help. Dragging my bike the rest of the way off the road I finally get to stop and take stock of what just happen.

There I stand still shaking trying figuring it all out. My rear tire is flat and my handle bars are broke along with other bits and pieces. There are feathers all over the road from my goose down coat (hey it was 1979 that was the style, plus I’m a- know-it-all 18 year old remember :)) being ripped to shreds. My leather boots are a mess with the right sole about half ripped off. My leather billfold has holes burned through three or four layers deep and my Levis aren’t much good either. And my helmet has the scares to prove I just went sliding on my head at some point. I don’t even remember what helmet it was at the time but I remember thinking if I hadn’t of had it on I may not be here right now. But with all that damage I didn’t have a scratch on me. Yes I was very lucky. Oh sure I was soar as hell the next day but I wasn’t complaining.

After my Grandma came and got me home, the next morning I went to the garage to have a good look at my bike. You see the statement of "never riding that damn thing that almost killed me" while sitting along the interstate had faded. My love for motorcycles and motorcycling was just too strong.  I start taking the rear tire off so I can put a new one on. It is at that time I realize just how bad my tire was. I distinctly remember looking at it before leaving thinking, oh its got plenty of tread left. But looking at it through the eyes of a rider who had just had the hell scared out him brought a completely new light to its condition. While my tire didn’t have cords showing like that tire does, it was pretty thin. To this day I never let my tires get pass the wear indicators and I ALWAYS replace them in pairs. Lesson learned the hard way.  

So every time I see a tire like that I instantly jump back to that time in my life. Whenever I see a person with a tire like that I re-tell my story hoping that maybe they will learn from my troubles. I pray this person doesn’t have to learn what I did the hard way. But then again maybe it will be a lesson they will never forget.

Needless to say I pay close attention to my tires now. I check my tire pressures bi-weekly. My friend Lori stopped by my shop a few weeks ago on her FJR1300. As soon as she dropped it off the center stand I could see the rear tire was very low on pressure. I rolled it in the shop and checked it and sure enough, it only had about 15PSI in it. Her comment of "so that is why the rear of my bike feels squirrelly" helped her understand now what a low tire feels like. It is said a tire can loose one PSI a week. Correct tire inflation not only adds to your safety but also adds to the life of the tire.

One thing to note about new tires. Be very careful the first hundred or so miles. Manufactures use silicone to help release the tire from the mold. This makes them very slick until it has worn off. This also goes for tire dressing. If you must use it be careful not to get it on the tread. Use a rag and rub it on the sidewalls instead of spraying directly on the tire. This gives you the added protection of not getting it on your brakes, which of course is a bad thing too. 


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How Does Your Helmet Rate?

I was surfing the web today and ran across something I found that surprised me about helmets. Now before you go off an rant about the merits (or not) of helmets you can stop right there. This post is not about that subject and I don't want to open that bag of snakes. I know everyone has strong feelings on this subject and it has been debated on many blogs. This post is going to deal with the standards in which they are certified. 

I for one bought my new helmet because of it's certifying rating which happens to be the Snell M2005 rating. I thought it was the standard which meant "the best" protection. Stacy at did a review on the helmet she bought. While reading her post she stated she bought her helmet because it had ECE 22.05 certification. (Page 102 of this PDF have all the test specs for all certification testing.) I had never heard of that rating before reading her post. So I did some reading to see what it meant. Disclaimer: Stacy I didn't steal your link coming up, I found it today while doing research. I didn't realize until making the link to your post that you had one of the following links.

One of the first links I came across was site called SHARP (BTW they have a great video on helmet sizing) which is a government site for the UK. The reason for going there is I wanted to see how my new helmet rated compared to others. Since they have different models in the UK I picked the XR100 which is for all practical purposes is the same as my RF1000. Or is it? They look the same, have the same feature and for all I can tell are the very same helmet. Except for the certification, the XR is ECE 22.05 and my RF is Snell M2005 rated. Why?

First it has to do with the standards they have set for Europe. But why isn't the Snell rating good enough if it is "the best?" There comes the fly in the ointment. It seems that maybe the Snell standard might be "to good." Huh, to good?

It appears that many experts think the Snell standard is set to high and as such the helmet is too stiff. To stiff? Isn't that what you want? In this article written by a Jim Brown for Motorcyclist (warning VERY long read) these experts have different ideas on how helmets should work. They seem to think the 300g limit that Snell sets is to high. While that is great for large impacts most (Hurt Report say 75%) motorcycle crashes don't generate that much force. They want to see the G limit no higher then 250g and some think that is still to high.

Now just for a counter point on Mr. Browns article here is one at I find it interesting that Mr. Brown doesn't mention the short comings of the DOT rating verse the Shell rating namely the amount of head that is covered and other factors.

What I find funny is how United States government is so pro-active helmet but finding helpful information on the web like that of the SHARP site is so hard to find. I searched the NHTSA for related material and the best I could find was this NHTSA link  that states:

  • NHTSA is developing a video that will be viewable on its Web site in Spring 2007 to assist consumers on how to determine whether a motorcycle helmet fits them properly and how to identify whether their motorcycle helmet is compliant with FMVSS 218.

Do you think I could find it? In fact I can't even find document FMVSS218. Then here is the real kicker, the NHTSA don't even test the helmets, instead relying on the manufacture to use "the honor system" to have carried out the test before putting on the DOT sticker. Sure they do some random spot testing, all of forty helmets a year, lowered from seventy five because the percentage of failure was so high. Where as for Shell testing the manufacture pays them to test their helmets as well as random off the shelf stored bought helmets too.

Now I'm not even going to claim to be an expert on this in the least. To be honest my head is hurting are studying all of this. But I think if I'm going to spend my hard earned cash on something, I think I'll trust my money to someone who is willing to for sure test their product. That's what it boils down to me. I trust the Snell sticker on my helmet.

I'm just posting this so you can determine for yourself what helmet is best for you. The cool thing is as time marches on smart people figure out new things all the time which translate in to better products. With debates like this one, people are pushed to learn more even faster.

All of this led me to the poll on the side. I want to know if it matters to you what certification is on the helmet. Ask your friends to voted too. I'm really curious if it makes a difference to people.