Saturday, November 15, 2008

1st Patch Ride - Mondo's Burger Run

For those of you who may not know, a “Patch Ride” is an organized ride where you have to ride to certain points, collect “evidence” that you were there, then at the end, you are given a patch which can be sewn on your riding vest. Being pretty much “patch-less” other than the requisite H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) and North Texas Chapter Rocker patches, I am eager to adorn my boring little vest with something other than a Texas and U.S. Flag (no disrespect to the flags mind you!).

This patch obsession goes back to my childhood, where at an early age, I would scour my brother Randy’s (he now goes by Randall) Boy Scout Handbook, lust over the colorful merit badges and imagine a sash full of them. Archery, Horsemanship, Camping, the possibilities were endless! My guess is I looked at this book more than my brother did. Some years later, when I was old enough to join the Girl Scouts, I was thrilled to receive my very own Girl Scout Handbook. I had little more than a passing interest in learning about first aid, memorizing the Girl Scout Pledge or how to make a campfire. For me, it was pretty much all about the merit badges. The handbook had pictures of all the pretty and colorful little badges. I suspect if this Handbook had survived my childhood (of which no evidence remains other than my annual school pictures), it would automatically open to the badge section. Anyway, Handbook in hand, I immediately committed myself to the task of accumulating as many badges as I possibly could in the shortest amount of time. Badge selection had nothing to do with my passion for the badge subject matter and everything to do with ease of acquisition. My “technique” for badge procurement was straightforward. I’d read the requirements and determine which were the easiest and simplest to perform. Brilliant! I “earned” several - Sewing (this came in handy for attaching the patches), Art, Reading, Swimming. Oh, the joy of having a merit badge laden sash! I Wish I still had it.

Here I am 35 years later and apparently I haven’t grown out of this childhood obsession because as soon as I heard about the “hamburger patch”, I was consumed with the idea of having one. Not to mention, as far as I’m concerned, I can’t imagine a better inaugural patch ride than one to acquire a “hamburger patch”! It doesn’t get much better than that! (Well, maybe a “Pizza Ride” patch could topple the almighty hamburger from it’s #1 spot) I was so intent on acquiring this symbol of my love for this not-so-heart-healthy food, I’d decided that even if the route included getting on an Interstate Highway, something I had yet to do as a new biker, I would face my fear and bite the bullet.

Unfortunately, Kim was going to be out of town and wouldn't be able to ride. Bummer! Since she is ever so diligent in taking good care of me, she called her Rider’s Edge Instructor and friend, Mitch Bina, and he was nice enough to agree accompany me. Since we hadn’t met, he came over a couple of nights beforehand and the 3 of us went out for dinner. I liked him immediately. As icing on the cake, Murphy (the dog) loved him. Murphy’s reaction to people is a great barometer of their “energy”. If he love’s you, you’re in like flint. If he growls at’s gonna be a tough sell. BTW, Mitch has a gorgeous Red ‘08 Street Glide. AND, he’s into gadgets, such as myself. Kim was right, I like him.

I watched the weather all week. Heaven forbid the ride get rained out. Thankfully, rain wasn’t forecast, but you know how the weather report changes from one forecast to the next. With each successive forecast, the temperature kept getting lower and lower and the wind speed kept getting higher and higher. No problem. I would just bundle up. (The fact I would even contemplate riding when the chill factor would be well below freezing is a testament to how badly I wanted to do this ride. Guess I have a strong "prey drive" when it comes to patches!) Off I went to a ski shop to pick up some hand and feet warmers since the last thing I wanted was frozen fingers and toes.

Friday night, I filled up the bike and then gave it a once over with the microfiber cloth. Then, I organized my stuff...sunglasses, chapstick, camera, etc. I had just gotten my Bluetooth Communication Headset (HEAVENLY gadget, but more on that later) so I charged it up and installed in on my helmet. Then, I decided what I was going to wear and then put it all on to make sure I was going to be comfortable. I wanted to hit the ground running on Saturday morning. I even made sure I got in bed at a reasonable hour Friday night. Since I’m NOT a morning person and Mitch was meeting me at the house at 8:00 am, I set 3 alarms so I wouldn’t oversleep. Not unlike the first day of school supplies, new clothes and then laying out the outfit the night before. The difference being I’m not 10 years old and I have been out of school more years than I care to admit!

Mitch arrived about 10 minutes early, but I wasn’t quite ready. Thankfully, I’d already eaten breakfast, fed the animals, etc. and was down to the finishing touches. While he was waiting, he paired our headsets so we could communicate with each other while riding. We pulled out of the driveway around 8:30. The wind was gusting at around 30 mph and the temperature was in the 40’s. Nippy! Other than feeling like the Michelin Woman, I was very pleasantly surprised with how comfortable I was in all the gear. Thankfully, Mitch had suggested a neck gaiter to tuck up into the helmet. This was great in keeping the wind out, a key factor in staying warm. The only issue with all this clothing was that it was bulky so it interfered with my movement and how far I could turn my head. In light of the fact we were heading due north - right into a stiff headwind - with a pretty low chill factor, I figured that was a great trade-off.

At our Dinner on Thursday night, Mitch and I talked about the "Highway thing" and my hesitancy to get on one up to that point. I felt no pressure from Mitch to do something I was uncomfortable with for his sake, but he did make the point that it’s a road like any other and that if I did get on the highway, I should just pick a lane and ride the speed I’m comfortable with and not worry about the cars. If a car wants to go faster, they can get in another lane. Very logical. He also said he’d be behind me to “protect” me from cars. Since the ride started at American Eagle H-D in Corinth, TX...on the access road to I-35 about 30-35 miles from my house, I’d already been psyching myself up thinking this might be the day for my Maiden Highway Run. After we got going, I’d decided that today was, in fact the day. Just where we entered the Freeway exactly was the next question. Since the section of I-35 leading up to and around the I-35/I-635 interchange is chaotic and nerve-racking enough in a car, not to mention, undergoing construction, I decided to avoid that area and get on I-35 just north of there. We entered the Highway around 9:00 a.m., and being a Saturday, the traffic wasn’t too bad. The surface was pretty smooth and the cars were very orderly and cooperative. Once I was on it, I was able to relax a little. It was not near as “scary” as I’d built it up to be. It was actually a little exciting since this was a major stepping stone in my “riding career”. Not that it was all fun and games. At 65 - 70 mph, wind is bad enough. Add to that a major head-wind and my body was getting getting whipped around like crazy. At times, the gusts were so severe, I found myself tensing up and hanging on the the grips way too tightly. Knowing tense muscles decrease coordination and would not serve me well in the event I needed to react quickly, I had to make a concerted effort to try and relax (and breathe). Thankfully, the Road King is a heavy bike, and it wasn’t moving so much as my body was. Can’t imagine riding in that kind of wind on a lighter bike...such as the Honda Shadow. Once we exited the Freeway though, I was able to breathe more normally. Not to mention my heart rate most certainly went down by half. It was a piece of cake from there! The good news was I’d ridden on I-35. Major hurdle cleared. When we got back on it later in the ride, with the wind was at our backs this time, it was downright pleasant!

We pulled into the H-D Dealership and there were a bunch of bikes there already. After seeing this “sea of bikes”, I became concerned we wouldn’t be among the first 100 riders to finish. This would put the hamburger patch I so coveted in jeopardy. It didn’t take long to realize there were no where near 100 bikers there. No worries.

After parking our bikes, we went inside, checked in and were briefed on the protocol. At each stop (mostly hamburger joints) we’d be given instructions to the next stop and a piece of paper with the components of a burger - bun, meat, lettuce, etc.. The first 100 riders to arrive at North Texas H-D by 2 p.m. with all these burger “parts” would get the patch. Come hell or high water I was getting a patch! Off we went...before the crowd a Starbucks for a little chilling out until the actual clock started. Since we’d hung out at Starbucks so long, we were the “last” to arrive at the 2nd stop. Oh well, Mitch took us to our next destination on a quicker route so at our 3rd stop, we were told we were riders #12 and #13. Hmmm....where were all the throngs of riders I’d been told would be joining this ride to seek the “coveted burger patch”? Had we gained that much time on Mitch’s shortcut? Off we went to our 4th stop. Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell, TX. The smell of the place was heavenly so we decided to have lunch. We ate and made made sure we got out of there in time to arrive at our final stop, North TX H-D, before the 2 p.m. deadline. We pulled into the Dealership at 1:45 and learned that we were among the 14 riders to finish the Illustrious Mondo’s Hamburger Ride. 14. You heard it. 1-4. Turns out, all those bikers at the Harley store where the ride originated were H.O.G. Chapter members, assembling for their annual picture! My big patch quest was a very poorly attended ride at best. Kinda sad when you think about it. And kinda funny.

Patch or not, I had a great time riding & logged another 100 miles. I never got cold as the gear was perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed Mitch - new friend/riding buddy. Got to use the Scala Rider Q2 headset for the first time with someone who had experience with it and was was able to learn about this new “toy”. For anyone wondering about them, they are sheer heaven. It’s wonderful to be able to talk about what you’re going to do, where you’re going to turn, etc w/o having to stop the bike, rely on hand signals or yell at each other at a stop sign. Also, since Mitch is a Rider’s Edge Instructor (competent and patient), I was at ease riding with him. Unless he's a great actor, I didn't get the impression he was miserable riding with someone with as little riding experience as myself. Plus, I was able to ask questions about riding. On top of all that goodness, I am increasingly more comfortable on the bike. That means I’m actually able to look at and enjoy the scenery. I still have a long way to go, but it sure is fun getting there. I can definitely see why so many people are crazy about riding.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

First Day Trip

Kim and I took off yesterday on our first long ride. We could not have asked for better weather. As you can see from the speedo, our total mileage was 201.3 for the day. Considering I had only 147 miles on the Road King...that’s a pretty big deal! We took off just before noon and rode back roads to Muenster, TX where we ate “lunch” at Central Restaurant. Since it’s a German town, we decided to eat German food. Gotta stick with the local flavor you know. Chicken schnitzel, bratwurst, Kraut and German Potato salad...a carbohydrate lovers dream. We saw a lot of bikers along the way and in Muenster. It must be a popular trip for N Texas riders. We had a great ride!

The bike handled like a dream. I had just installed the Sundowner Deep
Bucket seat While I don’t care for the looks of the seat (back pillion is huge!), it was extremely comfortable on the ride. We were on the bikes for about 5 1/2 hours. I had zero numbness. The only issue was my lower back, which is to be expected since I did have a fusion in 2001 and my lower back gets achy and tired easily. I need to get and wear a Kidney belt for longer rides. Plus, I’m going to get the driver backrest. Other than my back, I was completely comfortable. Kim rides a beautiful ’03 Fatboy (100 year Anniversary). Her butt & hands got numb from the vibration. She was riding with a Badlander seat, which is not ideal for touring.

Since Kim and I are both new riders (although Kim grew up riding dirt bikes and is more comfortable), I planned a route that kept us off Major Highways as much as possible. We both were most comfortable at 55 - 60 mph, but did get around 65 - 70 a few times. I didn’t like the wind percussion at that speed. The wind did something different at 65...I don’t know if the windshield height makes a difference, but at that speed, the wind really pelted my head...sorta staccato. Once we got out of the Dallas Metro area, I was able to relax more and enjoy the ride. The roads were in great condition with very little traffic. The leaves on the trees are changing, so we got to enjoy some Texas fall color.

Being new to this “touring” stuff, we did pretty well. I had printed our route from Google Maps and we each had a set. Kim had the great idea to roll it up and put it in her windshield bag. That way, we just had open the bag and roll it to see the next line. At every major turn, we’d stop and figure out our next turn and off we’d go. Of course, I have a bladder the size of a pea and drink gallons of liquid, so we made plenty of “comfort” stops.

Oh, I had a different horn installed when I got the bike and the horn cover has always vibrated like crazy. Our dealer ended up removing a rubber gasket that’s intended to buffer the vibration. After that, it was even worse, so I asked them to re-install the gasket the other day. I think they forgot. Anyway, when we got to Muenster, I discovered the horn cover dangling from the wires. Apparently the vibration was so intense, it just snapped the mounting bracket. Fortunately, we met a guy on a Road Glide in Muenster who had tools, so he just took it off.

What we learned:
  • Face shields are a “life saver”. A bug the size of a nickel slammed into my shield right above my right eye at the velocity of a speeding bullet. I was extremely grateful I had face protection!
  • Riding that many hours and in unfamiliar territory is very intense and tiring. I suspect we will be able to relax more with more experience. But for now, we are so “on” during our rides, we were wiped out when we got home.
  • We should have started earlier. Because it took us longer to ride 200 miles on our bikes than we’d anticipated, we ended up having to ride at dusk (shadows and glare) and in the dark.
  • Both of us don’t much like riding over 60 mph. It’s the wind, more than the speed that bothers us.
  • I really "need" a Garmin Zumo GPS so we don’t have to stop so much and depend on maps for our long rides. Already planning on it with my Xmas money!
  • Discovered the bikers “wave”. The left arm held out to say hello when passing another rider along the way. Also, figured out that you gotta keep the arm low so wind doesn’t knock it back.
  • Need to wear a back support on long rides.
  • The Harley Road King Classic is a GREAT bike...especially on the road!
  • Carry tools! You never know when they’ll be needed. I figured that since I have a new bike and I know nothing, nada, zero, zilch about bike mechanics, that I wouldn’t need them. Know I know it’s a good idea to have tools, even if they are for someone else to use. Fortunately, they guy who removed my dangling horn cover had them.
  • Don’t trust the fuel gauge. Kim thought her bike was empty, when it was just under half full.
  • The Sundowner seat is very comfortable.
  • Lady bikers get a lot of attention ;-)
  • Riding is a HECK of a lot of Fun!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Getting More Comfortable

O.K. I was feeling kinda guilty about not putting a pic of the Honda up, so here it 2004 Honda Shadow Aero 750. A mighty fine bike if I do say so myself. Of course, I’ll be selling it in the near future as I already find myself riding the Harley more and more. Interested? Shoot me an email.

That brings me to the topic for this entry...after riding both for a month plus, I’d like to share my thoughts about both of them...pluses and minuses. Keep in mind, I’m a VERY new rider and I got the Honda as a “training bike”.

Harley Davidson 2009 Road King Classic:

This bike rocks! Being in Harley’s Touring Line, it’s a great bike for rider’s who want get out on the road. Even though I haven’t actually taken a road trip yet, I really think that’s the type of riding I’m going to prefer. The idea of getting out of town and riding to an interesting little town or some hole-in-the-wall restaurant and then coming back, all in a day, is really appealing to me. As a matter of fact, Kim and I are going out this Saturday to do just that.

But enough about that.
As stated in my first entry, this bike is heavy. 810 lbs Running Weight (liquids, etc) to be exact. When you consider the weight plus a seat height just a tad under 27” with a rider, it can be quite a challenge for this lady biker to handle at a stop or situations where my feet are on the ground if the bike is anything less than perfectly upright. Now, with all that in mind, I did have the bike lowered 1” and I changed the stock seat out for a lower profile seat (less comfy, but not bad) which gets my feet more flat on the ground. As a newbie, especially a girl, feet on the ground is a good thing for obvious reasons. Much better control. Now, all that weight is not a bad thing. Where I have really come to appreciate it is in the ride. The Harley hugs the road like a dream. Cracks, little bumps, expansion joints, squirrels (I ran one over on my maiden run!), wind, what-have-you are barely noticed. With the Honda, my butt jumps off the seat quite often and wind definitely affects the handling. That’s rather disconcerting for this new rider. Also, I find myself more comfortable leaning into my turns on the Harley vs. the Honda. If you’d have asked me before I’d had a chance to ride both, I would have thought I’d have been more comfortable leaning on the Honda. Go figure.

So, for rides where I don’t anticipate much maneuvering or stops & starts, the Harley wins.
Another great plus for the Harley is it’s “visibility”. I upgraded the headlights to High-Intensity, changed out the side mirrors to ones that have amber running lights on the backside and blink when my turn signal is engaged and changed out the tail lights to LED. I also got a louder horn. And, I’m not afraid to use it! Of course, we can’t forget the pipes. Harley’s are loud and if you can’t “see me” perhaps you can hear me. The Coolness Factor...not to be bragadocious, but the Harley is just HOT! Kim and I pulled into Stroker’s and numerous guys came up to check out our bikes. Of course, two women riding their own bikes, especially a RKC and a Fatboy, seem to be somewhat of an anomaly here in Dallas, TX. We/our bikes draw a lot of attention. If we were inclined to have a beer, we wouldn’t need our wallets if you catch my drift. (But, our policy is no drinking while riding.) Of course, don’t ask me a question about what’s “under the hood”. My eyes glaze over if you talk about a Dyno, fuel-mapping, cc’s and such. I confess, I’m more into the physical appearance. Call me shallow!

2004 Honda Shadow Aero VT750:

Weight is almost 300 lbs less than the Harley which makes it easier to handle at low speeds or at a stop. It’s nice and low to the ground, so both feet are planted nicely with no alterations for my 5’9” frame. The bike is very well-built. It’s a Honda after all. I don’t anticipate any mechanical problems and it always starts like a dream. While some of the forums recommended a smaller, less powerful bike for new riders , I have found it to be a great training bike. It’s a cruiser, which was important to me since the Harley is a cruiser. I wanted a similar style bike to the one I knew I’d be riding. It’s 750cc, which has some get up and go, but it’s not so powerful that it will get away from you. For around town and quick trips, I prefer the Honda. At this early stage in my riding career, I feel more able to respond safely in an emergency situation due to the Honda’s lighter weight and maneuverability.

Bottom line, the Honda has been a great confidence builder, but will probably be sold very soon. Being an ’04, I hope to get out of it for what I paid for it...or very close to it. All in all, I’d do it again. The only thing I’d do different would be to get the training bike first...get used to it...sell it...THEN go buy a Harley.
Ride safe!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New Rider

This is my new Harley - a 2009 Road King Classic. Isn’t she great looking?! I haven’t put many miles on it since I decided buy a ’04 Honda Shadow as a “training bike” and have been getting most of my saddle time in on that one. Kinda like buying a Lexus, parking it, and driving your old Honda Civic around town. Of course, I’m not knocking Honda Civics or Honda Shadows, they’re both really great...but c’ know what I’m talking about.

You may be asking yourself, “why did Mary get 2 motorcycles?”. Well I’ll tell ‘ya, after saddling up, holding up and cranking up the throttle of the 810 lb chrome monster, known as the Road King Classic, I realized that my Rider Coaches (I took the Rider’s Edge New Rider Course) were onto something when they recommended us newbies buy a used, lighter weight bike to learn on while we get used to braking, using the clutch and maneuvering a motorcycle out in the real world. Then, they advised, after gaining competence and confidence, sell the bike (hopefully, for an amount close to what we’d paid for it) and go out and get our “dream” bike. Of course, I’d already put a deposit on this baby. Add to that the advice of the people who felt it was best to learn on the bike you would eventually ride (namely Harley Dealership employees) and after hearing countless stories of people who started small, and “outgrew” their bikes within 6 months, I threw all my good sense to the wind and pulled the trigger on this Bad Boy (or Girl). While I love my Harley, that was a bonehead move.

I confess, the weight and balance of the Harley scared the “bejesus” out of me. I found myself hesitant to get it out, even to practice in parking lots. Popping a clutch on the Harley is not a good thing. There’s not a chance I could hold it up once that bike starts tipping over. The good news is, my better judgement prevailed really early on and nobody (namely me) got hurt. With the speedometer reading only 30 miles, I set aside my ego and admitted I should have listened to the sage advice of the MSF Instructors. I decided to park the Harley and went out and found a nice, used, motorcycle, appropriate for a new rider. Enter, the 2004 Honda Shadow Aero. It is half as powerful as the Road King and weighs around 530 lbs. It feels like a Vespa in comparison to the Harley. It’s WAY easier to park, backup, etc. It’s a great beginner bike and has inspired a lot of confidence already. Because of its weight, the Honda is much easier to maneuver, so I feel a lot more comfortable driving around town and in traffic during this learning phase. Stopping, swerving and turning a motorcycle, for you non-riders, is not as easy as you would think. It takes practice. Add to the mix oblivious drivers who “don’t see” motorcycles, and it’s extremely important to master these skills.

I have ridden the Harley since, and am MUCH more comfortable on it, even after 100 miles on the Shadow. Kim and I got away from traffic on two separate evenings and that’s where it shines. The weight is a big plus in wind and on bumps and cracks in the road. It is a touring bike after all. Whereas the Honda is kinda squirrely and my butt comes off the seat at the mere suggestion of a bump. Forget wind! BUT, I will continue to hone my skills on the Honda Shadow for the next few months, or however long it takes.

I do want to take this opportunity to encourage anyone who rides or is thinking of riding a motorcycle to take the MSF Course or the Rider’s Edge New Rider’s Course (Harley version of the MSF). Not only will you get your motorcycle endorsement when you pass, you will be a much better, safer rider. I feel very strongly about the course and believe seasoned riders would benefit from it. Of course, they offer advanced courses as well. Actually, I took the MSF in 2003 when I got a Vespa and needed my Motorcycle Endorsement. Not even thinking “motorcycle”, I really enjoyed the course and looked at & considered getting a Harley. But, I never pulled the trigger. 5 years later, Kim was talking Harley and that sounded intriguing. The old interest started resurfacing, even more so with the thought of having a riding partner. Because I’d not ridden a Motorcycle since the first course (my Vespa doesn’t count!) Kim asked me to take the class with her in Dallas in AUGUST!!! Can you say HOT!!!??? No Thanks!! I remembered my class & knew we’d be sizzling like bacon in a frying pan out in a parking lot with our jeans, gloves, helmets and long sleeves. (Kim and her daughter gutted it out). As for myself, I went to Santa Fe,NM to escape the Texas heat and ended up taking the Rider’s Edge course through Santa Fe Harley-Davidson this September. We had two great instructors...Thank you Bill Kennedy and Katherine Pond...and was hooked.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, you won’t recognize me (or Kim) out there as we are covered up in protective gear. We both have AND wear, full-face Arai Helmets, gloves, jackets with armor, riding boots, chaps, etc. The thought of skin grafts, facial reconstruction, or a head-injury does not appeal to either one of us. I read something that says it best in response to people who ride w/o protective gear saying “it’s too hot”...”would you rather sit in a hot room or have a belt-sander driven across your forearm”? As for me, I’ll take the hot room thank you very much! SO, next time you’re out in your “cage”, that’s a car in motorcycle-speak, pay attention to those bikers out there and give us plenty of room.