Shakedown Rides: Training for a 12 Hour Rally

September 7, 2011

If you have read my earlier posts, you know that I bought a 250 Ninja that I love (Finally, a motorcycle just for me) and made some significant changes to make it more rideable (Farkles for the Ninjette). In addition, I made a crazy decision to enter a 12-hour rally, which resulted in some needed gear modifications (Body Farkles: Damn, 12 Hours is a Long Time).

For someone who rides as infrequently as I, the thought of riding for 12-hours straight is more than a little daunting. Fortunately, I had the sense to train by doing a series of shakedown rides. These were actually mini-rallies that very closely simulated the requirements I would be faced with on the actual rally. For each ride, Rich developed a list of bonus opportunities and gave me a time-frame. I went through the full exercise of reviewing the bonus list, weeding out the red herrings, routing a doable ride, and executing the plan.

I ended up doing three of these shakedown rides in the two months leading up to the event.

#1: Can I Even Do This?

Rich and I both used this ride to test our computer routing skills. We had the same bonus list and independently plotted our own routes. We would leave our home in Petaluma at the same time and meet for dinner at the Pacifico Restaurant in Calistoga 5 hours later. My route resulted in a beautiful tour of the Sonoma County coastal hills through Sebastopol and Graton, then up to the Alexander and Knights Valley wine regions, then over two sets of mountains into Lake County, and back to Calistoga. I have no idea what Rich did, but I’m pretty sure he got lost because he had been at the restaurant for over an hour by the time I got there.

Important take-aways from Shakedown Ride #1:

  • My new helmet needed some more break-in time. I developed an unpleasant jaw pain on the left side of my face. It finally subsided, but I was concerned.
  • My StreetPilot needed a sun visor (a common issue)
  • I definitely need a throttle lock
  • The changes we had made to my seat and riding position were perfect

#2: Riding in the Rain

I deliberately picked a very rainy day for the second ride. Rain is always a possibility in Utah and I needed to boost my riding confidence and test my gear. For this 3-hour ride, I went directly out to the coast (Tomales), headed south on Hwy 1 to Marin County, then came home on the freeway. I still had my bonus list to deal with, which meant managing cameras, Sharpies and paperwork in the rain.

Important take-aways from Shakedown Ride #2:

  • I needed a better plan for managing my paperwork than stuffing it into the chest pocket of my jacket. By the time I got to the first bonus question, it was a soggy unusable mess.
  • The time to put your over-gloves on is at the first hint of rain, not after your regular gloves are already soaked through.
  • My jacket and pants needed to be doused with Scotch-Guard
  • Hwy 1 sucks in the rain, not because of the wetness, but because of the mud, gravel, and eucalyptus droppings.
  • Riding in the rain isn’t as scary as it seems, as long as you stay away from the paint on the pavement (crosswalks, arrows, letters)

#3: Getting Serious About Distance

Rich had entered the Cal 24 Rally, which ended with a banquet at a hotel in San Jose. We thought it would be fun to have my final shakedown ride end there so I could join the participants for dinner. This was an 8-hour plan – first to San Francisco, then down the coast all the way to Castroville, over to 101, up 580 to Pleasanton, then back to the hotel in San Jose. This was the first ride that would require me to refuel (both the bike and my body), which adds the elements of fuel planning and time management. It was also going to entail a greater temperature variation than I had encountered before, which was going to put my riding gear to the test. It was chilly at 6am when I left home, but rose to the 80s mid-day in the valley.

Important take-aways from Shakedown Ride #3:

  • It isn’t as easy to average 45 mph when you have to stop for necessities in addition to bonus questions
  • The helmet problem identified on Ride #1 had disappeared – break-in was complete
  • The LDComfort top and tights worked as advertised – I never felt the need to add or shed any clothing
  • I survived 8 hours with a reasonable average speed, which made me pretty confident I could do 12.
  • That evening, I learned to manage the wind, as I found myself in an evil gusty cross-wind for most of the ride home.

With those three rides under my belt, my training was complete. All that was left to do was get to Utah and run the rally.

Next up: 2011 Utah 1088, Part I: Final Preparations

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Body Farkles: Damn, 12 Hours is a Long Time

September 7, 2011

I love my new Ninjette, and after I bought it, I wasted no time doing some significant modifications. Most were needed to make the bike more rideable and a few were added on after I decided to enter a 12-hour rally. All are documented in a previous post, Farkles for the Ninjette.

While I was customizing the bike, I found myself having to reconsider my gear in parallel. You see, I managed to sign up for something completely crazy. My husband, Rich, is a dedicated endurance rallyist – which basically means averaging 1000 miles/day for however long the rally is. He has ridden dozens of 24-hour rallies over the past two decades, and in September 2010, he finished his first 10-day rally, the inaugural MERA 10-in-10. One of his favorites is the MERA Utah 1088, which celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2011. The Rally Master, a good friend of ours, decided to overlay a 3-day rally on top of the traditional 24-hour format. In a moment of delirium, I suggested that he consider embedding a shorter rally as well for people like me who just wanted to dip their toes in the water. I had in a mind a nice 4 to 6 hour ride, but the result was a 12-hour challenge. Are you kidding me? But since it was my idea, I was sort of stuck at least giving it a try. Yep, this dilettante is going on a very long ride on a very small bike.

Seriously, 12 hours on a Ninjette? As it turned out, very few of the farkles I ended up adding to the bike were solely motivated by this event – most notably the GPS shelf, sheepskin seat pad, and full set of luggage. The other items would have probably ended up on there eventually anyway.

But the decision to enter the rally did expose some deficiencies in my riding gear. Or as my friend Maura Gatensby so eloquently put it, “No such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Here is what I’ve done to address that concept.

Under Gear

Problem: According to my more knowledgeable sources, after a few hours in the saddle, riders develop a condition commonly known as “monkey butt”.

Solution: The undisputed leader in monkey butt prevention is Mario Winkelman’s underwear, aka LD Comfort. The stuff isn’t cheap but it’s worth it. I wasn’t ready to spring for a full assortment, so on advice of trusted friends, I opted for a long-sleeve top and full-length tights. The assumption was that it’s better to be protected if it’s cold and let the wicking fabric do its job if it’s warm.

Ventilation / Face Access

Problem: My bop-around-town full-faced HJC helmet does not have the ventilation required for desert riding in Utah nor the flexibility required for stopping to take photos / write notes / get gas / drink water without removing said helmet.

Solution: I decided to get a flip-up helmet. Again, I wasn’t ready to fork out $500-600 for the market leader (Shoei), but I found that HJC made a perfectly adequate version in my price range. And since my everyday helmet was also an HJC, I didn’t have to worry about sizing or fit.

Hydration

Problem: Hours of riding in the Utah desert, no time to stop and drink.

Solution: One of the things I loved about the Dowco Tank Bag is that it is designed with a built-in pocket for a hydration bladder and a slot for the tube. Quick trip to REI to buy a bladder.

Ear Protection

Problem: The Ninjette cruises at 7000-8000 RPM. That’ll drive anybody crazy after a few hours.

Solution: I bought a set of custom-molded ear plugs from a Plug-Up at the San Mateo bike show, complete with a tether so I wouldn’t lose them and a cute little case to protect them. I added a small cord lock that turns the tether into a sort of a bolo tie so they don’t fall off when I take them out.

Body Armor

Problem: I love my Joe Rocket Ballistic jacket and pants, but the hard plastic body armor is miserable. I feel like a transformer robot in the jacket and the knee pads dig in to my legs most uncomfortably.

Solution: Rich had already discovered T-Pro soft armor from Forcefield. They’re made of some sort of space-age foam that is supposed to provide the nearly the same protection as the hard armor. I replaced the knee pads in my pants, but left the hard hip pads in place because they weren’t bugging me. And I replaced the elbow and shoulder pads to soften up the jacket but left the hard back protector in. The bad news is that we can’t find a source in the U.S. anymore.

Warmth and Dryness

Problem: In contrast to the big touring bikes, I don’t have a lot of protection from the elements. Staying warm and staying dry will be challenging.

Solution #1: I already mentioned that Rich dug up a Widder electric vest and wired a plug into a side panel on the bike.

Solution #2: I have some decent insulated snowmobile gloves and didn’t see any reason to buy fancy new expensive ones for the unlikely event of rain. Instead, I bought a pair of Aerostich Triple-Digit Rain Covers. Half glove, half mitten – they are waterproof and fit over my warm gloves. Problem solved.

So now my bike is ready, my gear is ready, I just need to get myself ready. Time for some Shakedown Rides.


Farkles for the Ninjette

May 30, 2011

Farkle: Accessory. The word is generally accepted to mean a combination of “function” and “sparkle”, hence, farkle. Motorcycle enthusiasts may install accessories, called farkles to customize their machine.

Ninjette: Nickname for the Kawasaki Ninja 250R motorcycle. The 250R is the smallest “Ninja” motorcycle that Kawasaki manufactures.

(Source: urbandictionary.com)

If you read my previous posts (Finally, a Motorcycle Just for Me), you already know how I ended up with a 2010 Kawasaki Ninja 250R Special Edition. Most bikes that arrive in our garage, even brand new ones, start life by being taken apart and rebuilt several times before they are “ready”. But this bike is so nearly perfect out of the box (and Rich won’t ride it, which helps), that I was hoping this extra step would not be required.

It only took one 100-mile ride to remind me that no bike is perfect. I quickly identified areas that needed attention to make it safer, more rideable, and even more attractive. Then, against my better judgment, I decided to enter a 12-hour endurance rally in June. That decision exposed a whole new level of farkling necessities. The resulting laundry list turned into a joint project over the winter and a long list of modifications which I have documented in this article. I’m not including a cost tally because I choose to remain in denial.

Here is a photo I took last July, right after I bought it and before my first ride (other than getting it home). No modifications had yet been made when this photo was taken.

As delivered, right after I bought it - the "BEFORE" photo

Riding Comfort

Riding position

Problem: The sporty riding position on the Ninjette is designed for 18-year-old kids with bodies that bend like Gumby – extreme angle on the knees and hips and a lot of weight on the wrists. It’s an inherently tiring position, but the target audience isn’t likely to ride for more than about 50 miles at a time. I needed to do some work to make it more suitable for an old lady like me.

Solution 1: We addressed the wrist problem by adding Roaring Toyz Handlebar Risers. These are designed to kick up the bar height by 1-1/2″ without sacrificing the wrist angle.

Solution 2: We dealt with the knees and hips by dropping the foot pegs an inch with the Cycle Pirates Adjustable Footpeg Mounting Kit. This mod required a significant amount of work and is not for the faint-of-heart. Though the brackets themselves bolted on, (a) they don’t use the stock footpegs and (b) the brake and shift levers had to be adjusted to match the new position. Rich took the opportunity to replace the rubber-clad footpegs with some metal ones, which gained me an extra 1/4″. I always wear boots so I didn’t even notice the slight increase in vibration.

Seat Enhancement

Problem: As with most bikes, the stock seat leaves much to be desired. When I test-rode it at the dealership I thought I might get away with it. My first shakedown ride convinced me otherwise.

Solution 1: We have always had good luck with custom seats from Corbin – we have put them on at least 10 bikes in the past two decades. They are not the elite seat-makers for long-distance riding, but I didn’t want or need a $1000+ custom seat. Corbin had a front seat replacement in their catalog that didn’t require me to send in my stock seat. As it turned out, the off-the-rack Corbin seat didn’t work for me either – it was canted forward in a way that shoved me into the tank, exacerbating the riding position problem. When I contacted Corbin for advice (intending to return it) they offered to adjust it. We took the bike down to get it “modified” – instead I ended up with a brand-new fully-customized seat at no additional charge. Kudos!

Solution 2: I decided I would probably want a little more comfort for the 12-hour ride so I added an Alaska Sheepskin Buttpad. The Pillion I fits the rider’s seat on the Ninja perfectly.

Bonus: The customization on the seat added another inch or so between my hips and the footpegs, thus reducing the stress on my hips and knees even more. The Ninjette has a very low seat height out of the box (one of the reasons I love it) and I’m tall enough that I still have plenty of room to spare even with the increased height of the seat. I haven’t tested the sheepskin yet, but it’s so thick that I’m guessing I’ll get another 1/2″ out of it. Every fraction matters!

Supplemental Warmth

Problem: The rally is in Utah in June. It is just as likely to be 40 degrees in the mountains as it is to be 100 degrees in the valley. With very little protection from the fairing, I needed a way to keep warm.

Solution: Rich found a Widder electric vest in the garage that doesn’t fit him anymore. He installed a Powerlet plug on the side of the bike right below the seat.

Replacement windscreen

Problem: Though the stock fairing and windshield are surprisingly effective on the freeway (compared to the unfaired ER-6N), I did feel like I would want a little more coverage for longer rides. This became even more apparent after I modified the riding position.

Solution: Zero Gravity offers 3 different replacement shields for the Ninjette. I opted for the Sport-Touring model, which is the tallest option. I chose Dark Smoke because it looks so much better on the bike and the screen is still low enough that I rarely look through it anyway.

Handlebar Vibration and Throttle Control

Problem: The hard-rubber handlebar grips transmit quite a bit of vibration. This problem isn’t specific to the Ninjette, but because it cruises at 7000-8000 rpm it is more noticeable than most, especially on longer rides.

Solution: Grip Puppies are simple covers made of dense foam. In addition to reducing vibration, they also relax the hand by adding diameter. They don’t last forever but they don’t cost much either.

Problem: Nobody can hold a twist throttle on for 12 hours. At least I can’t. Especially after sustaining permanent damage to my right ulnar nerve following an elbow fracture in 1982.

Solution: I solved two problems at once by adding ThrottleMeister cruise control and bar-end weights. The Grip Puppies weren’t quite enough to resolve the handlebar vibrations and bar-end weights were the next logical step. The ThrottleMeister isn’t the cheapest throttle lock available, but it is widely-accepted as the best and simplest to use. We special-ordered it from our local friends at CA Sport Touring.

Safety and Visibility

Rear-end Lighting

Problem: Most bad motorcycle accidents involving other vehicles are caused by (a) cars turning left in front of them or (b) being rear-ended. Visibility from the rear is key to mitigating (b) – the more light the better, especially under braking. Motorcycle tail lights and turn signals, with their small reflectors and old-school incandescent bulbs, are woefully inadequate. Fortunately, LED technology has opened up the world of lighting in low-voltage applications.

Solution 1: LED Integrated Tail Light With Turn Signals. This solution also addressed a problem that was both aesthetic and practical – the stock turn signals (on their mandated stalks) are not only ugly, but they are in the way of adding saddle bags.

Solution 2: To get even more light (and replace the ugly dealer license plate frame), we installed a chrome frame with an integrated brake light from Custom Dynamics.

Solution 3: Finally, we added amber LEDs from AdMore Lighting to the side body panels to enhance the visibility of the turn signals.

Audible Warning System

Problem: If the cars can’t (or won’t) see you, they need to be able to hear you. The stock horn is just pathetic.

Solution: Rich mounted a 139dB Stebel Nautilus Compact Motorcycle Air Horn in front of the forks under the fairing. He had to trim out some notches in the plastic but he finished it so nicely it looks like it came that way.

Seeing What’s Around Me

Problem: The stock mirrors are designed for looks, not function. Again, this “reflects” (ha-ha) the assumption that sport riders care more about what’s in front of them than what’s behind. Unfortunately, I DO like to know what’s back there (or next to me) and all I could see was my own arms and shoulders.

Solution: The factory Ninja 650R mirrors have longer stalks and bolt right on to the existing brackets (Ron Ayers Motorsports had the best price). The front of the bike looks a little gawkier now but it’s worth it – they completely opened up my view to the side and behind me.

Aesthetics and Functionality

Rear-end Aesthetics

Problem: The rear fender/license plate holder (as required by California law) is butt-ugly. It had to go – I’ll risk the fix-it ticket.

Solution: Installing the Competition Werkes Fender Eliminator kit was a relatively simple fix. It did require some trimming of the plastic mounting plate but it is well-illustrated in the instructions. The kit includes a replacement for the license plate mount and light.

Storage

Problem: There is no storage on this tiny little thing.

Solution 1: Cycle Guys FastPack Tail Bag and a cheap magnetic tank bag. I found the tank bag at the annual Cycle Gear yard sale in Benicia – if you haven’t been there, get on their mailing list for next year.

Solution 2: After I entered the rally, I realized that I would need to carry a lot more stuff than my little seat pack and tank bag can hold. I stumbled on the Dowco Fastrax Sport Elite Series at the San Mateo bike show last winter. I’ve looked at a lot of luggage over the decades and I liked everything about these bags. They are small (which means they don’t overwhelm the Ninjette) but extremely well thought out. I bought the tank bag and saddle bags on the spot and ordered the tail pack soon after. I will still use the small cheaper bags for bopping around town.

Solution 3: The shape of the rear bodywork is not really compatible with saddlebags – if I cinched them tight over the top they stuck out sideways, and if I loosened them up they drooped into the exhaust. Rich overcame the problem by building a custom nylon plate that bolts on in place of the rear seat and supports the saddlebags in a more natural position. It also supplies a firm level mount for the tail pack.

Navigation

Problem: I’ll need to use a GPS for the rally and there’s no place to put it (or connect it).

Solution: Rich custom built a dash shelf under the windscreen, modified and mounted a Touratech StreetPilot bracket that he found in the shop, and hard-wired the power cable. My friend upgraded to a Nuvi for her RV and generously gave me her old StreetPilot 2610 for my birthday.

Protecting the bodywork

Problem: This bike has more bodywork than any other I’ve had, which means a simple tip-over is likely to be really expensive.

Solution: Shogun Frame Sliders and Swing-arm Sliders. I did considerable research before deciding on the Shoguns. Most frame sliders attach only by the top engine bolt, which means they can actually cause MORE damage in a crash because they transmit all of the force to the engine head. The Shoguns attach to both the top and bottom engine bolts so that that the energy is distributed and less likely to cause damage.

Electricity

Problem: If you have been keeping track, you’ll note that we have added several electrical accessories – GPS, electric vest, horn. The electrical system on this (and most) bikes isn’t built to handle this.

Solution: Added a Fuzeblock under the seat. This provided all of the additional fusing capacity we needed to protect the bike from our electrical enhancements.

View of the dash, showing the shelf, mirrors and handlebar mods

Side view, showing the pegs, sliders, power plug, and seat

As you might imagine, there was a lot of Googling involved with researching and narrowing down some of these choices, especially the bolder ones like bolting on a pair of 650 mirrors to a 250. The resources that I found most useful were forum discussions on several sites:

  1. I got a tremendous amount of Ninjette-specific information from Ninjette.org, Ninja250forum.com, and 250ninja.org. All three are great for mining information using Google.
  2. Many of the generic items we added (horn, grips, dash shelf, etc) had already been installed on Rich’s ST1300 as he went through the process of prepping it for his serious rallies. The most valuable resource for that discovery and research was the ST1300 Owners Club forum.

This project was a joint effort, but I need to especially thank Rich for doing most (actually all) of the hard work. My part was easy – research, decide, buy, open the box like a kid at Christmas, and enjoy the result after it magically appeared on the bike. As you might imagine, there was a lot of hard work and shop time behind the curtain. But Rich loves pimping rides and takes the most pride when nobody notices that anything has changed. To quote his late great friend Paul Unmacht, everything he does looks “factwy”. The Ninjette is no exception.

Here is the “AFTER” photo with all of the modifications in place. Hopefully, if you hadn’t read this article, you might not have even realized that any changes had been made (not counting the luggage). Mission accomplished.

The "AFTER" photo - all modifications complete

P.S. I also developed an additional list of “body” farkles that are required to survive 12 hours in the saddle, but since they aren’t specific to the bike I’ve covered them separately in Body Farkles: Damn, 12 Hours is a Long Time.

P.P.S. You may have noticed the vanity plate in the photos of the back of the bike. I love my vanity plates and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But never in a million years did I expect to secure such a perfect plate for this bike. SCORE!!!


Finally, a motorcycle just for me

July 10, 2010

If you read my previous post (Motorcycles and Me: Historical Perspective), you know that after struggling with bikes that weren’t quite suited to my riding style/ability, I have found myself with unprecedented freedom from both family responsibilities and well-intentioned but misguided marital pressure, and now I can finally open myself to the right choice.

Kawasaki Ninja 250R

Coincidentally, Kawasaki introduced their 4th Generation 250 Ninja in 2008, the same year I was actually able to consider riding again. The reviews were phenomenal. 250? Really? I had never ridden anything smaller than a 700 (if you don’t count the Suzuki DR350 dual-purpose bike I owned for a while).

Kawasaki ER-6N

Off we went to the San Mateo bike show in Nov 2008 – my sole agenda was to investigate this bike. I sat on it, I loved how it felt. But I also discovered the ER-6N. Huh? A 650 UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) with about the same seat height as my beloved (on paper) 250? I wasn’t expecting that. This, too, had real potential to be the perfect bike. But no decision was forthcoming – too many other priorities.

We went back to the San Mateo bike show in Nov 2009. Same bikes (plus a couple of Suzuki options) – still no decision, wasn’t ready yet.

Then, in July 2010, the recession hit the bike shops for real and the sale prices started appearing. The dealer mark-up I had previously seen on the tremendously-popular 250 Ninja began to disappear. And then, there it was: my local dealer was advertising sale prices on both the 250 Ninja and the ER-6N. Time to pounce.

We showed up on Saturday morning. I announced that I would be buying one or the other, and that I intended to test drive both: the 250 to see if I could stand it on the freeway, and the 650 to see if I could stand it on city streets. Those of you who have never bought a new motorcycle may not realize that test drives aren’t assumed the way they are with cars – dealers tend to have special “Test Ride Days” and don’t usually offer them routinely. But I was armed with my M-1 license, my motorcycle insurance card, and suitable helmet/jacket/gloves. Given the economy, and the fact that I was prepared to write a check, I was not to be denied.

I rode both bikes twice. The 650 was pretty good, the 250 was nearly perfect. What the 250 lacked in power and freeway oomph, it made up for in nimbleness and immediate comfort zone. The 650 was everything I had ever had in a bike before – not terrible, but disconcertingly too much. Been there, done that. I don’t tour anymore, I don’t ride long distances anymore, and I don’t do the Sunday Morning Ride anymore. I spent about an hour trying to convince myself that the 650 was OK and failed.

2010 Ninja 250R Special Edition

Bonus, the 250 was the Special Edition – with a $200 graphics option. At first, I didn’t like it, but it quickly grew on me. Decision made – the 250 is mine!

Next up: Farkles for the Ninjette!!!


Motorcycles and me: Historical Perspective

July 9, 2010

I’ve been riding motorcycles since the early ’80s, when Rich encouraged me to buy a 1979 Suzuki GS750 and taught me to ride. That bike was a beast – the Superbike of its day, powerful and top-heavy. I naively tried to take the skills test for my M-1 endorsement on it – I dropped it during the test and was so humiliated that I rode illegally for years until I got a more suitable bike and tried again (successfully). Shortly after we bought the 750, Rich found himself a nice 1982 Suzuki GS1100ES. We toured quite a bit on those two bikes, and the 1100 was what he used to enter his first few endurance rallies. He soon got hooked by the whole endurance rallying thing and traded the trusty 1100 for the rally bike-du-jour – a 1991 BMW K75S.

1985 Suzuki GS 700E

My “more suitable” bike was a 1985 GS700E. I loved that bike. It was the right size, had an appropriate amount of power, and it looked really cool. I accessorized it with a matching Shoei helmet and white leather jacket and gloves with red/black accents. Damn, I looked good. By then, Rich had also managed to procure a 1987 Suzuki GSXR1100 sport bike for fun

In the fall of 1990, he and I took the 700 and the GSXR to Reg Pridmore’s C.L.A.S.S. riding school at Sears Point (sorry, it will never be Infineon to me) and we had a blast. The next day, armed with my new skills and confidence, I took the bike out to the Marin County coast on the Sunday Morning Ride and had a great time … until I ran out of asphalt exiting a corner. I left the pavement and rode up the embankment, valiantly trying to save it and return to the road. Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned any dirt-riding skills at C.L.A.S.S. and about the time I acknowledged that, the embankment became vertical and I crashed.

1987 Suzuki GSXR1100 (w/ Rich's custom paint job)

My bike and I landed upside-down in the ditch. Fortunately, our friend Peter Corlett was not far behind, and he stopped to help. Once he had determined that I was not badly injured, he exclaimed enthusiastically (in his Manx-bred British accent) “That was awesome! You looked like you were riding the F@#&ing Wall of Death!” Where was Rich, you ask? Way ahead of us on the GSXR, because that’s where he always was on the Sunday Morning Ride.

The injuries to both me and the bike were relatively minor – my left side was bruised from hip to mid-thigh, and the windshield and instrument cluster on the bike were smashed. We did some rudimentary triage and determined that the bike was rideable and I was able to ride it, so Peter and I limped toward home. Just a few miles up the road, we encountered all manner of emergency vehicles and crash debris – another friend on the ride had collided with a bicyclist and both were seriously injured. I asked enough questions to determine that Rich wasn’t involved, and that he had headed home to get the truck and trailer to retrieve our friend’s bike.

Peter and I continued on toward our house, and finally met up with Rich about halfway home. Naturally, he was oblivious to my plight, so there I sat at the stop sign like an idiot, pointing at my smashed instrument cluster and whimpering “I crashed, too!” His response – “Oh, so you did.” He did his best to exude an appropriate amount of sympathy, but even my narcissistic self couldn’t deny that our friend’s plight was much more serious. He said “I’ll see you at home” and we parted ways.

But I digress. I fixed the bike and held on to it for a while. But then my father died in 1996, exposing the harsh reality that I was the only family support for my aging mother. I never really had the passion for riding anyway, and suddenly, I found that risk-taking had taken a crystal-clear back seat to the potential for elder-care. It was time for me to grow up, so I decided to sell the 700.

1991 BMW K75 takes on Alaska

In the meantime, Rich used up the K75S with several rallies and a trip to Alaska and traded it in for his next rally bike, a 1998 BMW R1100GS. He had also fallen in love with the 1998 Honda 996 SuperHawk (as a replacement for the aging and slightly-too-aggressive GSXR), flew to San Diego to buy a barely-used one and rode it home (crashing on the way, but that is a separate story). He managed to convince me that I could handle it if I needed a riding ‘fix’. And then in early 2009, he decided that the R1100GS was no longer a suitable rally bike (translation: it was too tall for his aging knees to reliably get on and off of after 20 hours without sleep), so we bought a 2009 Honda ST1300.

Fast forward to mid-2009: by the time the whole bike shuffle was over, we had three bikes in our garage: a BMW R1100GS that I could barely touch down on, a Honda 996 SuperHawk that scared the crap out of me, and a really fancy Honda ST1300 that I didn’t dare even swing my leg over.

By then, my personal circumstances had also changed – having lost my mother in June 2008, my elder-care responsibilities had evaporated. Before you get all judgy and assume the worst of me, let’s be clear on the circumstances: she lived a full and independent life until she succumbed to a series of resistant infections and resultant kidney failure at age 93+. Not many parents survive well into their ’90s with all of their marbles, so as unfortunate as it was, I can’t feel too sorry for either her or myself. After dealing with that, I found myself with the freedom to open my mind back up to motorcycles. And if you’ve been keeping score, you’ll agree that I was long overdue for a turn to get what I wanted – the last bike I had chosen for myself was back in the late ’80s.

You can guess what the next installment will be – decisions, decisions, and what I ended up buying. Finally, a motorcycle just for me!