Mixed Feelings

February 21st, 2006 by mnscooter

21 February, 2006 Temperature: 9 degrees F (-13°C)

My neighbor Coleman just said something to me that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Coleman is the nice gentleman who moved into the house behind mine a few years ago with his lovely wife Jessie. We don’t hang out much, because we have so little in common, but he is always friendly and talkative when we meet face-to-face.

He was walking down our shared driveway this evening when the Baron and I were pulling in, home from work. I removed my helmet, said “Hey Coleman.”

He stood there and looked at me for a moment. Then he shook his head with a bemused expression on his face, and said, “Well, looks like you made it.”

I said, “Well, it was an easy ride tonight. Nice and warm and no real traffic to speak of.”

He said, “No, I mean riding through the winter! Haven’t you heard the long-term forecast?”

“No. What are they saying?”

“It’s supposed to get into the forties next week, with maybe a fifty-something.”

“Wow”, I said. “Are you sure?”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Hmmmph.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. “Well, thanks for telling me.”

He kind of chuckled, and walked back up to his house.

The end of winter? Already? That just doesn’t seem right. Past winters have been interminable affairs, stretching on and on in a long train of misery during those years when I didn’t ride through it. It’s only the twenty-first of February… Surely the Old Man has some fight left in him? One more big storm? A few more sub-zero days?

As much as the promise of spring thrilled me the other day, I realize that I have enjoyed this adventure. Some mornings, putting on all that gear just seemed like a chore. But on those days when I was going to be challenged by the cold or the road conditions, I felt positively energized! To have something to struggle against, with well-honed skills, and ultimately triumph, is a memorable thing. That is the very definition of adventure, isn’t it?

Well, I can’t believe winter is over just yet. I’ve just checked my “Sent” file in my email account, which stretches back a couple years. Sure enough, message traffic increases around early March, when I have started riding for the last few years. By then, I am positively vibrating with anticipation. I rationalize that there isn’t THAT much salt left on the roads. A little ice never killed anyone. Er, well, at least it never killed me.

Yes, “Weather or Not” is a common theme in my writing come March. I ride, regardless. Well, this year, I think I am going to continue on the Baron until I am sure the salt is gone. There is some light snow in the forecast for later this week. Probably not enough to present a challenge, but it might make a nice backdrop for a photo shoot. I still have that magazine article to write, and there is one unmolested patch of snow at work that I can play around in for the camera.

So yes, I am excited by the onset of spring. But I am also kind of sad that the struggle is coming to an end. It has been one of the mildest winters on record, and for that I am probably fortunate. I will keep this blog until the official end of winter, on March 20th. After that, there will be another blog, but I’ll tell you about that later.

Right now, it’s time for me to get off this computer and hang out with my girls. See you tomorrow…

Morning Glory

February 20th, 2006 by mnscooter

20 February, 2006 Temperature: 11 degrees F (-12°C)

Spring is coming. I can smell it on the breeze. I can see it in the sunrise, which comes earlier every morning. Another month, maybe, and I will be riding my KLR to work. Or will I?

That’s a tough decision. Fifty miles-per-gallon versus eighty? A responsible man would choose the scooter. I try to be responsible, but it seems that every gene in my euro-mutt constitution cries out against such drudgery. I miss the power, the ground clearance, and the sheer tactical audacity of my urban guerrilla motorbike, otherwise known by the descriptive sobriquet: “Frogwing”.

I knew bringing another motorbike into the family would mean trouble.

But that’s a dilemma for another day. This morning, as the Baron and I took off, the sky was clear and the stars sparkled like diamonds. Compared to Friday’s frigid ordeal, this was like a holiday cruise. We left in darkness, but the first hints of dawn colored the eastern horizon. We were in no hurry. Monday would be at work, waiting for us, no matter what time we arrived.

The Baron was enjoying his respite from the sub-zero torment of last week. All systems were functioning smoothly, and he sounded eager to get on down the road.

Traffic was especially light this morning. I realized that it was President’s Day, and all the government and school workers were sleeping in today. I think the river roads are especially popular with the university crowd, because the beautiful parkways were deserted this morning. We enjoyed an effortless cruise all the way to the Lake Street Bridge.

Then, as always, it was decision time. Do we stop for coffee, or not?

Last night, I suffered from a recurring malady which my wife Amy calls “Sunday-itis”. When I have a challenging project waiting for me at work, I usually start thinking about it on Sunday afternoon, and it invades my sleep on Sunday night. Last night was bad. I slept about four hours, and then it was lights-on and a Mickey Spillane pulp novel until the alarm went off at five a.m.

The sexy blonde did it. I figured her for the job in the second chapter. At least I didn’t think about work.

But I did need some more caffeine, if I was going to avoid nodding and drooling on my keyboard today. So the Baron and I stopped in at Dunn Brother’s.

Coffee StopI’m not a latte guy. Just a plain old cup of joe for me. Black, as dark a roast as they have, suits me fine. I like espresso too, but those fancy little cups put me off. I paid for my 12-ounce mug of French Roast, and sat down at one of the PCs they have for paying customers.

Dan Bateman, aka “Irondad”, had posted a harrowing account of his weekend ride, and I just had to respond. By the time I was done typing, my coffee was cool enough to drink. This I did, and then it was time to go. Outside, the sun had come up, and we had some nice golden light to illuminate a photograph.

Having made the shot, I put the camera away under the seat, on a cushion of rags, and donned my riding mitts. Traffic was finally stirring on West River Road. Not much, just enough to make me pay attention.

We made it to work with no drama at all. The Baron managed almost 60 mph on Highway 55 this morning. I wanted to test that variator, to confirm that it was just the cold that slowed us down on Friday. It was. What a relief.

Tonight, we rode all the way home without stopping. I was out of gas, physically and mentally speaking. Just plain tired. There was no aggression, controlled or otherwise, in our riding tonight. Just a go-along, get-along kind of flow. I saved my energy for cautious riding; looking where I was supposed to look, and staying out of trouble. It wasn’t so bad, really.

I’m going to bed early tonight, and I expect a good night’s sleep. The things I worried about last night are well within my capabilities. I just have to focus and do the job I know how to do. Maybe we’ll stop for coffee again tomorrow. That was nice. Or maybe I’ll just park the Baron and walk out onto the bridge to watch the sunrise.

Tell me, does anyone driving a cage to work ever consider doing that?

Yup, It’s Cold. Press On…

February 17th, 2006 by mnscooter

17 February, 2006 Temperature: -6 degrees F (-21°C)

This morning, I dressed for the ride in every piece of cold-weather gear I own. I was determined not to let the sub-zero temperature get to me, so I would be able to concentrate on the Baron’s condition and the ride itself. Long-johns under jeans, under rain pants, under leather snowmobile bibs. Heavy wool socks, of course, stuffed inside snowmobile boots.That took care of the bottom half.

Up top was Aerostich all the way, except for my habitual black turtleneck. Electric Kanetsu vest with sleeves under Darien jacket with Tech II liner. But it was to that crucial junction at the neck that I paid particular attention.

This morning, I used the Aerostich/Hadwear head wrap thing. This is basically a tube of synthetic material that you can configure any number of ways. I use it as reinforcement for my Merino wool balaclava, and a face-mask insulator to protect my frost-bitten nose. Then, I put on the white silk aviator’s scarf Andy sent me, before donning my helmet. Finally, I wrapped my big, plaid wool scarf around the whole works. This should block any wind from getting up under my helmet, I thought. It did, but it also really inhibits head movement, which is critical for maintaining “the scan”. This was a compromise I was willing to make in the light traffic this morning. I would have to reconsider it in the heavier traffic of the evening commute.

As I waddled outside, I felt positively medieval. To paraphrase Snoopy: “Here’s Sir Ridesalot, dressed in his suit of armor, preparing to mount his noble steed.”

Indeed. It was definitely cold. I could feel that on my hands, as soon as I stepped out the door. I don’t put on my mittens until after I start the engine and plug-in my vest. They are just too clumsy for anything but crude manipulation of riding controls.

The Baron started readily enough, idling kind of fast, but when it came time to get rolling, his belt-drive CVT juddered and jerked in a most reluctant manner. I’m sure the variator was not designed for these temperatures. The steering was quite stiff, and the suspension was making those ominous creaking sounds that I experienced last time it got this cold.

The wind out of the northwest was strong and steady, between 15 and 25 mph. Weather wallahs were quoting a -25° F windchill, and I was glad I couldn’t feel it. We rode sluggishly down the sidestreets, and stopped to fill up the gas tank before crossing the river. Nobody said a word to me this morning. They were all hunched over in their hats and scarves, scurrying back to their heated cages.

Once on Shephard Road, we took a long time getting up to speed. The Baron could only manage 45 mph in this cold, battling that stiff headwind. I could feel the frigid air like a hoard of icy invaders, surrounding my citadel, and probing for a way in past the defences. I must be learning, because this morning there were no leaks.

There was just this general, ominous feeling of dangerous cold “out there”, but inside my armor I was alright. Once again, my head felt like the bridge of a ship sailing through troubled waters. But this time I was fully aware and had the helm firmly in hand. This sense of detached calculation when in peril is something I would like to study one day. I suppose I would have to go back to school for that. Maybe later, if I ever get to retire.

I was feeling the cold just a little bit more by the time we reached the Dunn Brother’s at the halfway point. My extremeties weren’t painful or numb, and my visor was still clear. Traffic was still light, and I think that was what drove my decision to press on without stopping to warm up.

Was I colder than I thought? Was I becoming irrational? I asked myself these questions as I turned down the road past the coffee shop. Well, I couldn’t feel those screws in my knee yet. Look, I can still see well, and what I see is a clear road without a bunch of morons driving cages. LET’S JUST GO TO WORK, ALRIGHT?

So we pressed on. West River Road is getting bad. The frost heaves come one after the other, and on the Baron’s cold-stiffened suspension they felt like riding over the “whoops” on a motocross track. Bam, bam, bam, bam… my lunch was taking a beating back there in the milk crate. Frozen as it must have been by then, it was a wonder I didn’t arrive at work with shattered pizza slices. But wife Amy had packed them well; individually wrapped in heavy foil, then tied up together in a plastic bag. These things are important. Thanks Honey!

By the time I saw the first hints of daylight creeping over the horizon, we were nearly there. I also noticed that my visor was frosting up on the inside again. It always starts on the left side. I have no explanation for this, except that the seal between the panes must be compromised there. Maybe a replacement is in order. Nevertheless, I calculated that we could probably make it before my vision was dangerously compromised.

Of course, this meant taking the highway to save time. Bad decision. The Baron, with his stiff CVT, was not up to highway speeds this morning. We could just manage 40 mph by that time, and the limit here was 50. Being a Friday morning, that meant everybody was going 65 – 70. Suddenly, I forgot all about the cold. Now my life was in danger from the angry motorists zipping past us at much higher speeds. We turned off at the next opportunity, and took the sidestreets the rest of the way to work.

My visor was frosted clear across by the time we arrived. I had to lift it out of the way to negotiate that last mile or so. That was cold. Really cold.

I should have stopped at Dunn Brothers to warm up this morning, but I’m a stubborn brute sometimes. Whenever faced with a challenge like this, I tend to choose the caveman option. I’m getting too old for this.

During work today, I went out to the parking lot to check on the Baron. He didn’t want to start. I hadn’t worn my gloves out there, because I still didn’t get exactly how cold it was. I didn’t know that the temperature had actually DROPPED while I was beginning my workday. It was -8° F by the time I tried to start the Baron on my morning break. So I pulled in the metal brake lever with my bare left hand and pressed the starter button with my right thumb. The starter whirred, but didn’t engage. I tried it again. And again. Finally it caught and turned the engine over. And over.

It took about 30 seconds to start the Baron, and by that time my left ring finger was slightly frostbitten from the cold metal lever. You really can’t fart around with cold like this!

I quickly realized that the Baron would not survive the whole workday out there in the cold and still be able to start at quitting time. So I called my friend Al Kurtz, our facilities manager. He had a nice, warm spot in our warehouse across the parking lot, where they park the Bobcat that clears the snow around the buildings sometimes. He said I could put it in there, just this once. Thanks Al.

On the ride home tonight, it was still -6° F. It hadn’t warmed at all during the day. When we got to the halfway point, at the Lake Street Bridge, my visor was half-frosted. It was time to stop. I looked at my options: Dunn Brothers, or the Longfellow Grille. Dunn Brothers has coffee, but the Grille has Guinness. That wasn’t a hard choice. I left the Baron parked at the bicycle rack where I could see him. Running. There was no way I was going to give him a chance to refuse to start.

By the time my Guinness had settled, my visor was cleared of frost. By the time my Guinness was gone, I was nice and warm, and ready to finish the journey. The rest of our ride home went smoothly. We could still only manage about 50 mph, even with the headwind gone. We actually had a 10 mph tailwind by then. But the variator was making weird noises, and I know it wasn’t liking this cold at all. I’ll have to call up crewchief Lorne and see what he thinks.

So, am I going to go for that midnight ride tonight? No. It’s supposed to get down to -18°F. That’s about -28°C for the rest of the world. The Baron has indicated that’s too cold for him, and I have to agree. Midnight will find us both tucked snug in our respective beds. I’m not THAT stubborn.

Cold Days Ahead

February 16th, 2006 by mnscooter

15-16 February, 2006 Temperature: 7 degrees F (-14°C)

Sorry I didn’t update yesterday, but sometimes life in meatspace intrudes.

Yesterday’s ride was cold. The seven degrees temperature felt more like minus seven, for some reason. It couldn’t have been humidity, because all the weather wallahs tell us our atmosphere is very dry right now. Perhaps it was just fatigue, as I didn’t get enough sleep the previous night. But the little spot of frostbite on the end of my nose indicates that it is time to investigate better helmet sealing.

When we were riding on Shephard Road yesterday, a jet of icy-cold air was blasting in under my facemask and super-cooling the tip of my nose where it rubs against the rubber. When I shifted the helmet to stop that, the sub-arctic jet slashed into my left eye, which teared up, and then the tears froze, blinding me. So I decided to take it on the nose after all. We were running late, so I coudn’t afford the time it would take to stop for coffee and a wardrobe adjustment. That was my thinking at the time, anyway. I probably should have stopped.

By the time we arrived at work, the inside of my visor was frosted from the left side, almost to the center, and my nose had a raw, red spot right on the tip. My legs were also frozen to the point where I swear I could feel the titanium screws in my right knee. I had elected to wear the lighter rain pants instead of the leather snowmobile bibs. All that warmer weather we’ve been having spoiled me, I guess.

At least the roads were dry in most places. Here’s an amusing vignette from my freezing rain ride on Tuesday:

Riding up Bernard Street, I noticed a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. In the yard of the house on my right, a cottontail rabbit was running alongside of the Baron and I. He was keeping right up with us in the snow, and seemed to be trying to get ahead of us to cross the road. We slowed down a bit to give him a chance, and he darted left onto the icy road in front of us.

The moment his little paws hit the road surface, he went ass-over-teakettle, spinning and flailing his furry little limbs all over the street. When I close my eyes, even now, I see the image of his fluffy white bottom sticking up while his nose slid along the ice, all frozen in the Baron’s headlights. I was squeezing the rear brake gently, and we missed running him over by no more than the length of a whisker. I’m sure he made the crossing alright, but it illustrated just how little traction we had out there.

Apparently, Mr. Bunny Rabbit was not running ice screws or studs in his paws.

So now, the Wizards of the Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild are telling us that we are in for a big snowstorm, and days of frigid arctic weather. It’s supposed to be a cold, crisp weekend. Probably a good time to get some stuff done around the house, and I still have that article for “Scoot! Quarterly” to write. If it really gets down to -14°F on Friday night, I might have to go for a midnight ride. That will be the coldest temperature to date, and I’ve been wanting to set a good benchmark for the fellows in the Cold Weather Challenge.

Today’s ride was easy. Only five degrees warmer than yesterday, but that made a huge difference. It’s supposed to start snowing any time now, and I’m sure I’ll be riding through flurries on the way home. Hey, this is what it’s all about. I’m dressed for it today, having chosen the more restrictive - but - warmer garb this morning.

Well, my “blunch” (blogger’s lunch) is over, and I’ve got to get back to work. More tomorrow night…

The Iceman Cometh…

February 14th, 2006 by mnscooter

14 February, 2006 Temperature: 26 degrees F (-3°C)

It was raining when I stepped outside this morning. The air aloft, where the clouds live, was warmer than the freezing point of water. So the rain came down in a liquid state, but froze on contact with anything that was ground-level ambient temperature. These are the most diabolical conditions Old Man Winter can conjure up, from a scooter commuter’s perspective. I fell prey (literally) to them only eleven days ago.

But this time I was not fooled. I had taken the time to watch the morning news, and learned that we had freezing rain all over the metro area. That rain hit my helmet visor with a heavy “spat-splat-splat” as soon as I stepped out the door. My boots slipped on the sidewalk as I was walking towards the garage. It was clear that this morning’s commute would be especially challenging.

I reached into the huge right-hand chest pocket of my Aerostich Darien jacket and located my Vee-Wipe, which I promptly stretched and pulled onto my left thumb, over my glove. This will take care of any ice clogging my visor, I hoped.

The Baron started right up, seemingly eager to confront the challenge ahead. I did a quick systems check, paying special attention to things like headlights and brakelights, and let just a little bit of air out of the rear tire for traction.

At about six a.m., we rolled down the driveway and out into the street. Turning right with my foot sliding along the icy pavement, we did not crash this time. Fool me once…

We rode with the utmost caution all the way down Bernard Street, which had yet to be visited by a salt-sand truck. We fishtailed up the hill just past Robert Street, and I started to relax a little bit. The Baron and I have been here before.

Turning right on Smith Avenue I saw it was clear of ice, with some slushy patches. Easy street. We made it all the way to the gas station on Highway 13 without incident.

The cop pumping gas into his cruiser at the adjacent pump, looked me up and down and said, “Not a good day to ride!”

I wanted to say, “Ya think!?”

What I actually said was, “I’m taking it slow and easy. I’ve only a short way to go.”

Of course, coming from my sealed-up, full-coverage snowmobile helmet, that may well have sounded like vulgar static to his calloused cop-ears. Who knows? He didn’t say anything else, and I paid at the pump. He did not Taser me. Things were lookin’ up!

Hey, I like cops. I really do. We have a lot of interests in common. The enjoyment of fast travel and firearms are chief amongst them. But to this day I still have this stubborn American/Biker reflex to rebel against any and all forms of authority. Old Man Winter is just another authority figure to me. “THOU SHALT NOT RIDE-during the season of My Reign!”

To which I reply: “Oh yeah…?”

Anyway, the road surfaces we encountered on the way varied wildly in terms of available traction and traffic levels. I didn’t feel much like playing around out there, because I just couldn’t gauge the available traction through the ice pellets forming on my visor. Even taking a hand off the bars to scrape it off was a risky proposition, so I saved that operation for stop signs and long straights.

Luckily, or perhaps by municipal design, the more heavily travelled roads actually got more salt and sand, and were therefore navigible. It was for this reason that the Baron and I selected the half-fast route this morning. We made our way over to Highway 55 and rode that all the way through Minneapolis to the outskirts of Golden Valley.

We didn’t encounter any more really bad ice until we got to the parking lot at work. Then it was Landing Gear Down again, as we rode along dragging both my boots all the way to our reserved parking space.

Photo by Eric EngelbretsonDismounting the Baron, I noticed a crackling sound coming from my riding apparell. Ice was falling in little sheets off my body.

When I walked into the building, I sought out my friend Eric Engelbretson. He almost always has a camera handy, and this morning he did not let me down. Before the ice could melt off my suit of riding armor, he snapped a nice photograph.

The Iceman Cometh, and now he has to go to work.

Grocery Gitter

February 13th, 2006 by mnscooter

13 February, 2006 Temperature: 15 degrees F (-9°C)

I’ve been contemplating this homely milk crate today. So ugly, yet so useful. In a way, it sort of legitimizes us, the Baron and I. Let me explain…

Grocery GitterBelieve it or not, we have been caught speeding a time or two on West River Road. When I say “caught”, I don’t mean pulled-over. I mean that a cop has seen us before we could react and slow down to the limit. The Minneapolis Park Police and regular force officers seem to be more creative in their ambush techniques than their Saint Paul colleagues. West River Road is their turf, and they patrol it aggressively. We tend to ride a bit over the limit most of the time, and this is where I have to think that maybe the milk crate saves us.

If the Baron was wearing his sporty, color-matched trunk, we would look guilty as hell. But as soon as they see that goofy, bungied-on, salmon colored milk crate, they relax: “Ah, just another poor working stiff, probably running late. Give him a break…”

Call it The Anti-Bling Factor.

The humble milk crate also serves a very useful function in that it carries so much more than the trunk did. Now that my wife is working part-time, she occasionally calls me with a small grocery list. I ride right past our neighborhood supermarket every night, so it really isn’t much of a hassle to stop in for a bag of essential supplies. It’s truly amazing how much stuff that milk crate can handle, especially when you stretch a couple of bungie cords over the top of your load to hold it inside when riding over the bumps.

Yes, the milk crate turns the Baron into a small utility vehicle. S.U.V.? Oh no, that’s not right. I can pretend I am a redneck and call it a Grocery Gitter, I suppose. Why not? The point is, I am only now learning firsthand what people in other parts of the world have known for quite some time. In places like the Philippines or Thailand, I have seen whole families piled onto one scooter, heading into town. They transport livestock to and from the market, and carry all manner of large objects, sometimes balanced precariously and held down by a myriad of rigging. That humble scooter is nothing less than the family car over there.

I have often fantasized about selling my neglected pickup truck and just putting that money into savings, maybe investing it. Can you rent a pickup truck when you really need one? Doesn’t that make more sense than suffering from all this depreciation, maintenance, and poor fuel economy?

I’d better shut up about trucks now. Somebody down at that Ford Ranger plant is going to read this, and we will never be safe on East River Road again.

The Happy Warrior

February 10th, 2006 by mnscooter

10 February, 2006 Temperature: 26 degrees F (-3°C)

Just over three months ago, I wrote a blog entry called Attitude Calibration. It was my second entry in this blog, and I had only been scootering for three days. I was amazed by the adjustment I had to make in my riding style and attitude, with only one-quarter the horsepower of my regular ride, the KLR 650.

My epiphany was that you couldn’t ride aggressively on such a humble machine, hence you had to adopt a very calm, zenlike attitude about riding in general, especially in traffic. I actually thought at the time that I would be okay with this, even though it goes against every instinct and reflex I have ever known.

Who was I kidding?

I guess it worked for awhile. The Baron was an unfamiliar animal; quick to the point of twitchiness in handling, and so much slower than what I was used to in acceleration and top speed. It took some time for me to adjust and assimilate all these new sensations.

So, for those first few weeks, I was overcautious and tentative. My hyper-awareness was driven by fear of failure, and I approached every ride like a test card in an X-plane development program. Whenever I felt the onset of aggression, I pushed it away.

Not anymore.

Controlled AggressionNotwithstanding the terrible, almost unreadable poem by William Wordsworth, the term that best describes my riding state of mind these days is The Happy Warrior. It is an attitude of controlled aggression, in which I try to make the most out of every ride by pushing the envelope of our performance, in time, speed, and style.

When roads are dry, I take a racing line around corners. Leaning in hard to strafe an apex is almost as much fun on a scooter as it is on a sportbike, and you stand less chance of violent dismemberment. When conditions are cold and/or sloppery, I respect that, and concentrate on overcoming those challenges.

Still, I can’t resist the temptation to drift flattrack style around a snowy corner. But I only do that when conditions are right, and there are no other vehicles about. If I screw that up, the cager will be looking right at me, and will therefore run me over. It never fails.

But I now find myself attacking the challenges of heavy traffic with mischievous glee. This is where I have GOT to be careful. The Happy Warrior has scant armor against a steel bumper or a concrete curb. This is where I have to practice my controlled aggression with the emphasis on control.

The Baron and I take advantage of our size and small footprint to squeeze into places a cage can’t go. We take to the bike lane or the shoulder when the boxes stop moving. When we come to a red light, and are in the right lane, we turn right, and find a way across the road, so we can cut through a parking lot and continue on. The challenge is to always stay within the law, or at least appear to. If there is a reasonable doubt, you have some wiggle room. We are all about wiggle room.

But we pull these maneuvers with a high profile, hoping that the box people will see us and a lightbulb will flicker in their sluggish brains: “Behold! He is escaping the grinding monotony of gridlock on a vehicle that costs less than the yearly depreciation of my Ford Extortion!”

When they get home, they will boot up their computer and research motorbikes, finding out that in most states, you can get an endorsement on a scooter, without learning all that hand-clutch and foot-shift rigamarole. This plants a seed, and soon a For Sale sign appears on another anachronistic SUV.

Well, that’s the dream, anyway. One Less Car. If we can do that today, maybe we can do it tomorrow too. If a bunch of us do it, we might actually make a difference. Isn’t this the most fun you can have in public service?

Update: The trouble with the Baron the other night was a crack in the spark plug boot, which allowed the spark to short to ground. Crewchief Lorne replaced the coil and plug wire combo and the problem was solved. It seems that the constant shower of cold saltwater slush embrittled the boot and caused the failure. This will go into my Test Pilot Report.

Here’s an addendum to this post on attitude…

I didn’t address the beautiful, relaxing, zenlike state of the moto-tourist. This is because I am commuting on the Baron in city traffic. If you try this mode in the city, you are one of those folks to whom excrement happens. You hear this all the time: “I was riding along, minding my own business…”

Yeah.

If you ride in traffic, you had better be minding EVERYBODY’S business. That’s what it costs to enjoy this freedom of movement on a motorbike. Along with your controlled aggression, you need a side order of situational awareness. That means knowing what threats exist within 360 degrees of your position, and what they are likely to do in the next 500 milliseconds. A tall order for some people, but not so hard for anyone who plays video games.

Still, there is no reset button out here on the streets.

Ordeal

February 9th, 2006 by mnscooter

09 February, 2006 Temperature: 26 degrees F (-3°C)

This is not what I intended to write about tonight.

I am sitting back at my desk, at work, and it is six thirty p.m.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, we got a couple inches of snow today, and traffic was snarled up all over the Twin Cities when I got off work at three-thirty. No big deal, I thought. I’ve dealt with worse than this.

The Baron started right up, and I let his engine warm for awhile as I put on my gloves and readied my mind for the challenge ahead. To test the traction I would find out on the road, I spun a few donuts in the parking lot. Two clockwise, and then two counterclockwise. No problem. Same old sloppery conditions I rode in last week.

We made it about five miles, carefully, taking no unnecessary risks. Then, pulling away from a stopsign in a residential neighborhood, the Baron sputtered a couple of times and died.

I’m not going to bore you with the details, other than to say that I checked fuel flow, and that didn’t seem to be the problem. Most likely an electrical gremlin, but I didn’t have the tools necessary to check that. As happened before, at least a hundred cars passed me while I was there on the side of the road, with the seat up and parts scattered in the snow. One after another, they passed by without even slowing down. What is wrong with people these days?

I know… I have no cell phone. What’s the matter with ME?

It was unbelievable good fortune that my friend Jerre Waye was driving by, and he stopped to help. He never drives this way, but tonight he had to run an errand. We pushed the Baron over to a nearby house, knocked on the door, and the nice lady there said we could leave the scooter in her driveway until I could return with a truck. Then Jerre drove me to a local gas station, where I called my Baron pit crew. They came and got us, with no complaints. These are good people.

Now I am waiting at work for my wife to come get me. They aren’t going to start on the Baron until tomorrow, so I am going to have to find another way to work in the morning. A quick phone call, and it’s Dad to the rescue. He’s good that way. This is one nice thing about living close to your extended family.

So now I wait, reeking of gas, while Amy fights the traffic to come pick me up. Am I sorry I started this whole thing? No. This is one bad day, out of how many good ones? Whatever the failure was, it is just another data point in my Baron Test Pilot report, and hopefully it will help the engineers at the factory build a better scooter in the future.

My last two blog entries were leading up to something. Tonight I had planned to discuss how attitude affects your safety and enjoyment of the ride. Events dictated otherwise, obviously. Well, there’s always tomorrow.

A Perfect Metaphor

February 7th, 2006 by mnscooter

07 February, 2006 Temperature: 21 degrees F (-6°C)

The Baron turned over seven thousand kilometers today. It happened early on our morning commute, at about quarter after six. The sky was dark and cloudy, and I wouldn’t have even noticed had we not stopped for gas.

Under the bright flourescents at the Holiday station, the odometer read seven zero zero one, point one. I stood there in the cold and pondered that for a moment. This little scooter has known nothing but hard use for three months. He has stood up to two minor crashes and lots of hard running; salt, sand, and muck attacking his metal components.

I checked the oil: still full since our last change. I looked him over and grimaced at the salt stains on the plastic and accumulated grime everywhere else. He’s looking pretty gnarly again. Yet he purrs like a big cat every time I push the start button, regardless of the weather. He has taken me to work and back every time I’ve asked him to. This is a very good scooter.

All the way to work this morning, I thought about how such a simple, economical vehicle could be the answer to our fuel problems in this country. If only we could uncouple our egos from our mode of transportation, and use our existing garment technology to deal with temperature. We could save loads of gas, and cut pollution by orders of magnitude.

But most Americans don’t think like that. They still buy into our media image, which was created by our enormous advertising industry. Size matters, and might makes right. If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch. Ego-driven materialism may be the death of us yet, as illustrated by the following tale:

The Duel…

Now this is funny, in a sad sort of way. Riding home tonight, the Baron and I found ourselves approaching an intersection behind an SUV, on a four-lane avenue. The light turned red, and the SUV turned right, leaving us at the head of the queue in the right lane. Up ahead, a pickup truck was parked in our lane, illegally close to the intersection. I hadn’t seen it because the SUV had tinted windows and blocked my view.

In the lane next to us, a fellow pulled up in a wheezing old, turd-brown Plymouth K-car. I looked over and noticed that the driver was a middle-aged fellow with a bushy mustache and aviator sunglasses. He looked straight ahead, but I could see the muscles in his jaw twitching. He was staring fixedly at the stoplight, knuckles white on his steering wheel, as though on the starting line at the local dragstrip. Like it or not, I had just assumed the nemesis role in his 1970’s disco drag-race fantasy.

Now, you have to take a moment to appreciate the situation…

In his mind, my lane is blocked shortly after we cross the street. NO WAY is he going to let some crazy smart-ass on some kinda foreign motorscooter get ahead of him in that space. He is a pissed-off, blue-collar American Working Man; beaten down at work and at life by powers and people he cannot understand. But right here, right now, he’s gonna get some of that back, if only for a fleeting moment.

I hear his lifters rattle as he revs his tired old engine. He is actually standing on the brakes to get a quicker takeoff, torturing his transmission. His fan belt is screaming pitifully. The light on the cross-street turns yellow, and I look both ways. Nothing coming. As their light turns red, I twist my throttle, knowing there is a lag before the variator spools up. When our light turns green, I am already moving through the crosswalk, with a holeshot car-length lead.

The K-car’s engine cries out, as it tries to obey it’s driver’s command. They come away from the line without spinning a tire. Are they gaining? I don’t know. But now the parked truck is just ahead, and I pull the Baron to the left side of our lane. The K-car driver beeps his horn in frustration, but we shoot the gap, squeezing by with room to spare. We never even have to enter his lane.

The Baron and I make it to the next light first, and it is red. I hear the squeal of brakes and I look to my left. Mister Nineteen Seventy-Nine is thrusting his middle finger at me as though it is the gunsight of some terrible cannon. His face is beet red, and I can see his pulse hammering in his throat. This is full-bore road rage on exhibition. I really wish I had a camera. I smile and wave, then turn right down West River Road.

He did not follow, thankfully. If he’d had a gun, I might not be typing right now.

Yeah, I know… I’m a bad boy sometimes. What can I say? Don’t try this at home?

It’s not my job to be a perfect example. This is a scenario which plays out in much of Europe, and all over the third world, every single day. With the price of gas on the rise over here, it will be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Look, if you are reading my blog, I assume you are at least old enough to have a driver’s license. Make your own choices, and accept the consequences. Or as the late, lamented Hunter Thompson would say:

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Unscathed…

February 6th, 2006 by mnscooter

06 February, 2006 Temperature: 11 degrees F (-11°C)

After our record mild January, this morning felt cold by comparison. Eleven degrees is right at the threshold between glove and mitten weather. If I wear gloves, my fingers will be pretty cold by the time I get to work, unless I stop for a warm-up on the way. If I wear mittens, there’s no problem with warmth, but mittens feel clumsy on the controls. This morning, I chose the gloves.

The roads were mostly dry, with isolated ice patches to keep me interested and engaged. My situational awareness has improved markedly since my lapse on Friday morning. After a restful weekend and two cups of coffee, I felt like a Road Warrior.

Yes, I had a restful weekend, for once. On Saturday morning, I was gearing up to ride out to the Cycle World Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I was supposed to meet Ed Faherty, a local Baron Motorcycles dealer, who had a booth there. I was going to spend my day talking to friends old and new, looking at motorbikes I cannot afford, and generally immersing myself in shiny sexy motorcycle goodness. But as I turned around to locate my balaclava, I was greeted by a couple of angry females: my lovely wife Amy and daughter/princess Emily.

Hands on hips and exuding estrogen-fueled menace, they scowled as I tried to look baffled and innocent at the same time. But before I could even say, “What…?”, Amy fired the first salvo with, “Alright, Wandering Boy, just where do you think YOU’RE going?”

“Ummm, well, you know I’m supposed to go to the motorcycle show, right?”

I won’t go into details here… this is supposed to be entertainment. Suffice to say that I have been neglecting certain, er… obligations, in pursuit of the perfect Winter riding and writing experience. I was forced by conscience and coercion to strip out of my layers of riding gear, and assume the costume of the domestic husband and father for the duration of the weekend.

It wasn’t exactly horrible, mind you. Just not something I’m used to, is all.

So, this morning I was back in the saddle and ready to go. The Baron was running flawlessly, and the dark sky was full of stars. I breathed that brisk, cold air in through my nose, and it felt good filling my lungs.

All along my familiar route, we were hitting the marks. Brake here, lean in there, watch out for that manhole cover on the exit. Gas it here, and slow down for the big bump there. ICE! Straighten up and roll smoothly across it. We were back in the groove, the Baron and I. Riding instead of driving, living instead of daydreaming.

By the time we arrived at work, I was feeling supercharged. I burrowed into my workload with an intensity that I haven’t felt in a long while. Time passed quickly. We had a meeting which changed a few things that needed changing, and I felt even better.

By quitting time, the sun was out, and it was a balmy twenty-five degrees outside (-4°C). The Baron and I surfed on waves of asphalt, flowing effortlessly through traffic, relaxed but aware. West River Road was a continuous ribbon of scenic beauty. There was no chaos around the Ford plant. We cruised Shephard Road at an easy fifty, and nobody tailgated or cut us off. In short, it was a Perfect Commute.

I’m not sure what this means. Probably nothing at all. Happy people driving in the sunshine don’t often go out of their way to ruin your day. Was that it? Hmmph… let’s not get carried away here. But I’m beginning to think that ninety percent of what we experience in traffic is generated by our own attitude. The other ten percent is luck, or fate, or whatever brand of karma you might believe in. Whatever it was, it got me through a Monday unscathed. That’s good enough for me.