Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Minor Mechanical Mishaps

So, when I came out one afternoon to take Maggie to Marshall's for her noon inspection appointment, I geared up and prepared because I was planning on going running with Katie Milanese at 1:00 when I was done. So, backpack loaded, helmet and gloves on, I hit the start button. And...nothin happened. I made sure I was in neutral, that they key was on, that I didn't have the engine kill switch in the off position (which I have done occasionally). All looked good. I popped off the seat to make sure I didn't loosen any wires and sure enough, one was disconnected. I reconnected it and tried again...still nothing.

I took off the side covers and looked for a kick start. I found nothing resembling a kick start. At this point I am getting tight in terms of making it to the appointment. I replaced the side covers and tried one more time. Nothing. I checked my front light. Nothing. Great. The battery was dead.

I decided to try pop-starting it using my downhill driveway. It was faster than getting out jumper cables. I made it halfway down my street, with the engine sputtering and burping before it died. I pushed it back home and tried again with a similar result. I moved onto jumper cables, fully sure that I was going to now be at least ten minutes late. Maggie fired right up and ran smoothly...until I unhooked the cables and after 30 seconds, she coughed and died. Same deal the next time I jumped her.

Finally, I had to call Marshall's and reschedule my appointment until 4:00 that afternoon. I hooked her up to a battery charger and on my way I went to go run with Katie.

When I returned, I waited until 3:30 and tried again. Sure enough, she fired right up and ran smoothly. I was afraid that if she stalled that I wouldn't have enough battery for another start, so I put the choke on full and ran inside to change my clothes. That was a bad idea.

When I get back outside, I turn to the side of the house and see smoke. As I come upon my bike, their is smoke POURING from both sides of it. It only took me four or five minutes, but I guess letting it idle high for that long is a bad idea. I immediately shut her down and off come the seats and side covers, once again. I use one as a fan to dissipate the smoke. After a few minutes, and the smoke is gone, I try again, because how can you possibly call it quits when you have put this much time in. She fires right up and I notice that her temperature gauge indicates she is plenty warm. I head off to Marshall's without another problem.

After getting my bike inspected ($20) and ordering a new front tire ($60) because the old once was scalloped a bit, Dan told me that there was a good chance I had a bad battery or potentially worse, a bad recharging system and to keep and eye on it.

The following day, my manual came from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. I immediately read it cover to cover. Come to find out that there are two lock positions on many motorcycles. One just locks it. The other, in case you are on the side of the road at night, leaves your license plate light on for easier spotting by other vehicles. The night before my inspection, I locked the handle bars before I took the key out. Guess which locking position I unknowingly used? Riiiight.

Next Chapter: The First Night of Bike School

Getting Gas While Out for a Sunday Drive

First of all...Paco was right. We don't say that too often in these parts, but I will call it as I see it. I waited for a Vespa to pass me when I was coming out of a parking lot, even though I could have shot right in front of him. To test out the theory, I waived. The *** didn't even acknowledge that I was there.

So, on Sunday, I, for no particular reason, decided to go for a ride. Maybe it was because I hadn't ridden since Thursday, or maybe it was because I had some free time and was tired of cleaning up around the house by myself while my wife was at her parents watching her sister because her dad has a combination of Lyme Disease and the West Nile Virus. Talk about not complaining about working inside anymore! At first it was just to make a deposit at Adirondack Bank and get gas for the first time. The real moment of truth came when I pulled in at Hess and was mauled by a ten year-old who was raising money for dance camp. How do you say no to that? So you have to throw in $5 right there ( it was all I had on me...no ash tray of change on a bike). I filled myself up, having driven roughly 75 miles, although the tank wasn't empty. The grand total? $8.32. Woo-hoo! I was giddy. And I don't get giddy.

After the bank, and returning to home to find my wife still not home, I decided to head back out. So I decided to take a little run through Ballston Spa and just tool through some of the neighborhoods around Grand Ave. Its one of those maze-like suburbanite developments and it was fun to see the reactions from people in their yards. Men and boys looked on with a mixture of desire and distaste, depending on the individual. Moms pretty much had that "What is the scary looking biker guy doing in our neighborhood" look. I don't know if it was concern for their daughters in the here and now or the concern that a biker named Snake would come home with their teenage daughter on the back of his bike. It could be worse mom...she could be riding on a Vespa. Then you have the danger of a moped mixed with the arrogance of its owner.

Maybe I should out an "I am a teacher" bumper sticker on the front forks.

After I finished there, I just took road after road until I, and quite to my surprise, ended up in Greenfield Center where my in-laws live. I stopped at their house to check in on my wife and then headed back over a different route. I really enjoyed being in the open air on a beautiful day. I could take in so much more than when I was in my truck and it was nice that I didn't have a radio, which is always on in my truck, or the ability to check or even hear my cell phone. I rambled for about 35 miles or so before I came home. It was a great day to be out on slow turns and I only hit trouble once when I slightly misjudges a turn. I braked somewhat hard and yanked in the clutch, reflexively. When I started to lean through the turn, at a decent angle, the back tired barked enough for me to hear and feel it, and I was reminded to be more diligent in judging turns and that I still need more work on SLPR, despite my efforts.

Next Post: Minor Mechanical Mishaps

Monday, July 2, 2007


So my buddy Paco, a fellow rugger and biker, offered to go ridin later in the afternoon on Tuesday, the day after I brought the bike home. Paco is an experienced rider and I asked him because he is one of the more sensible people I know. Cornell grad. Engineer for the Navy at a base with nuclear capability. Rugger. Biker. Madman. That's Paco. The whitest guy in the history of that name. Consequently, I have asked him about four times where he got the nickname Paco. He has told me each time and I think the explanation is so vanilla that I have forgotten and continued to forget it. When the times comes, I will invent a better back story for it.

So Paco arrives after riding his bike all day. He took his girlfriend Nichole to New Berlin to get some work done in her classroom and had some other odds and ends that he handled all over the capital district. Paco is a good shade smaller than I am and he rides a much lighter, and faster, bike. His ride is a Yamaha R6. Its like the one I have pictured here. It weights about half of what my bike weighs. We go over my bike. I ask if he wants to take it out for a quick ride around the block. That is what I have been doing in my development all day. My development is a big oval and I have been NASCARing it all afternoon to gain some comfort with the handling before I head out onto the open road where there is traffic all over. At this point, my neighbors love me. Especially the senior citizens who had whatever has replaced The Price is Right routinely drowned out by the roaring of me starting and stopping and accelerating to high RPM's trying to shift. Paco does a quick lap and comes back, noting the increased heft and unfamiliarity with the gearing. His bike, which I am not going near, I had a heart attack sitting on it, probably shifts by just thought. You need to commit serious leg power to Maggie. Ha. I think I just named her.

Paco goes over what he calls his mental checklist: Headlight, taillight, turn signals front and back, break signal, gas, and tire pressure. I check all of these and they look good. We head out. We get to the first stop light and he pulls up along side of me (he suggested riding second so he could critique my style). He notes that my back tire looks soft and suggests we pull into Stewie's right accross the street from the light. Upon inspection we find that my back tire had 17 psi and my front tire had 21 psi. We bump both up to 33-35 psi and head off on our way again. I lead us on a winding route trying to push myself. Winding roads, straight aways, steep hills, stop lights, four way stops, stops on the uphill, right and left turns, you name it. Once we get into the village of BSpa Paco pulls up next to me and mentions that I should start signaling earlier than I am, which is what I would do in a car. I note that I am so concerned with shifting I haven't been paying as close attention and promise to remedy that. I head down Route 50 and get the bike over 50 mph for the first time. I pass many bikers going the other way. Most wave, as I quickly learn is proper etiquette. Paco notes that pretty much only Harley and Vespa riders will not return waves. Harley-Davidson riders I get. Why wave to riders on "Metric" bikes (I learned that term for Japanese bikes today). But when you are "ridin' dirty" on a Vespa, I guess you are just too cool to notice the rest of the world. We made it to where I work, Burnt Hills High School. We took a ten minute break and talked motorcycles and riding theory. After that we got ready to leave. Paco reminded me just before I pulled away to pull up my kick stand. That would have hurt.

I decide to take an even more winding path back, up through Ballston Lake to Eastline Road. Other than waving at a student on mine at a stop light (she was completely clueless as to who I was thanks to the full face helmet, we were uninterrupted by traffic controls. The long, rolling turns proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. Once I had to break with some mild enthusiasm because I misjudged the lean on a turn. Beyond that, we wove ourselves home, with me once getting up to about 60 mph and passing a car (on Route 50, again). There was one somewhat hairy moment as I headed up Geyser Road towards my house. I had attempted to shift and the bike would not, as I was accelerating. I tried 2-3 times with the clutch held in and then decided to let the clutch out and try again. The back wheel barked when I let out the clutch, which was startling to hear, but that was it. After a quick stop at Stewie's for water, Paco went over turns using the SLPR technique, which stands for Slow, Look, Press, Roll. I have been practicing it, but the press part always makes the bike wobble, so its a work in progress, I guess. And that was it.

As we pulled into my driveway, I noticed how really nice a night it was turning out to be. In the 35 miles that we traveled, the sky had turned a mixture of pink and orange and lit up the clouds. I don't think I would have noticed it in my truck because I wouldn't have had so much head space and the warm wind wouldn't have been as in my face. I know it sounds poetic, but it was something very different about not being surrounded while I was driving. And while I am having a hard time getting use to not having a seat belt when I get on the bike, I am finding that there are other perks, as well.

Next Chapter: Out for a Sunday Drive

Registration and Gear

So, on Tuesday it was time to finally get my bike registered and I was going to have to pick up gear locally because both internet sites, while having good prices, were back ordered.

The first trip, before I headed off to work, was to stop by the DMV. It was a fairly simple process. Armed with a form I filled out online, my driver's license, an insurance card, the title from the previous owner, and my check book, I was pretty much ready to roll.

I had one additional form about sales tax to fill out and $114 later ($42.40 in sales tax, $71.30 for registration - which is almost as high an the year's insurance!), I had plates and sticker in hand, and a 10 Day inspection ready to go.

After finishing a landscaping job down at the La Salle Institute, I decided to pick up gear from Marshall's Motorsports on my way home. I came to this decision after first stopping at Spitzies Motorcycle Center on Central Ave. in Colonie. They had some AWESOME bikes down there. Some of the monthly payments were close to what I paid for my bike as a whole. The cheapest helmet that I could find was a little over $300. There were some cheaper ones but they had Harley-Davidson written on the side, and I thought that would look foolish to be wearing on a Honda. I had already bought a leather jacket off of Ebay and I just had to play the waiting game until it arrived. It was your standard biker jacket. It supposedly retails for $105, but I managed to get it for $15 plus shipping ($25 - bogus), for a grand total of $40. Still a lot less if the retail was close to accurate.

Once I was in Marshall's, I wandered around looking at the different options. Marshall's comes off as more of a dirt bike place but they have been really friendly and are a lot closer than other options I have found, so I thought I'd go back. I was looking for a full face helmet with a shield. I figured that I spent a lot of money on this brain and rugby has dented my face enough, so I wanted something that covered everything if I were to lay down my Magna. That ruled out a lot of the selection, but I ended up choosing a HJC CS-12. It looked a little more built for a sport bike, but it gets the job done. I also managed to get it on sale, marked down from $109 to $75. I thought I'd share two interesting notes I learned this week about bike helmets:
  1. I read in my owner's manual that helmets are good for one impact. That includes dropping it of the dinner table onto the floor or off of the bar on the back of your bike to the pavement, on accident. It made me much more careful as to where I put the helmet.
  2. According to my buddy Dennis, who was inspired to buy a bike this past weekend now that I am riding (he is an old Magna owner), a helmet is only rated to 13 mph for a head-on collision (no pun intended). If your head strikes something square faster than that, chances are that you will break your neck anyway. Wow.
I also decided to return the unused Canyon Dancer that I bought the day before since I didn't end up using it, which put $32 back in my pocket. With the "extra cash" I decided on a pair of Castle Sport Mesh Gloves which ran about $37. They won't stop me from breaking a wrist, but they may stop me from breaking the back of my hand and my fingers in a fall. I brought my gear home and tore right into it.

Once I had everything adjusted, I spent some time going over the bike. I tried to get familiar with the controls so I knew what I was doing when my buddy Paco came over that afternoon to go for a ride. I also checked the gas to make sure that I had some and estimated that I had close to a full tank (although looking back after filling it, it was probably closer to 2/3 of a tank. I also contemplated how much money I had spent thus far to "save money" at the pump. I keep telling myself...Start Up Costs...

Purchase Price: $610
Insurance: $86
Registration: $71
Sales Tax $42
Helmet: $75
Gloves: $37
Jacket : $40
Gas to Pickup : $60
Cycle Permit $14
Total Thus Far: $1,035 or
345 Gallons of Gas

I figured if riding my motorcycle gave me 3:1 gas mileage as compared to my Ram. I drive about 20,000 miles per year in my truck. I am estimating that I can expect to save about 6,000 miles (because I will drive it on rainy days and still use it for landscaping, etc). At 13 mpg and @ $3.00 per gallon, that costs about $1385. On the Magna, I can expect to only spend about $514. That is a savings of $871. When you consider that I will recoup the cost of the bike, helmet, gloves, and insurance in the first year, that isn't so bad. I will have continuing costs of registration, inspection, insurance, and maintenance (and tires are a need in the near future). I am also estimating gas mileage because I haven't filled it up yet, so the numbers are just estimates, but it seems like it should be a good way to save money and save miles on a truck that I still have 16 payments on that also has 75,000 miles on it.

Next Chapter: The Ride with Paco