Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cops and the Rules

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I bought my ZRX motorcycle in California from a cop. Not like that! He was a guy.

NO NO NO! He wasn't old and the bike was way cooler than that.

Now were getting a little closer. You could tell that he was used to being in charge.

Yes. This is about right. A superbike cop.

He had lots of toys and took very good care of them. In fact, he was kind of worried about the ZRX being parked outside my hotel. I asked, "Why? Is there a problem with crime?" No, he said, but it might get wet and it might get dirty sitting outside all night.

You would think that as a police officer, he would be a stickler for the law. But he told me, "don't go to the DMV and give those guys a bunch of money for nothing. Just ride it here on my plate and registration and, if you get stopped, let the officer know that you are taking it out of the state and that you bought it from me."

I thought this was pretty interesting. Then, on getting the bike back home and getting to know it a little, its interesting to see how little he cared for keeping the bike legal.

For example, he pulled the carbon cannister and intake box to put 4 K&N air filters and a slip on exhaust on it. A carb kit makes it rich and probably increases the emmissons by an order of magnitude. He thought the turn signals were ugly, so he put on these little, dim aftermarket replacements and took off all kind of other things like reflectors, stock mirrors, etc. The strangest one is that he didn't like the location of the horn, originally located at the side of the radiator. So he hid it, up inside a pocket in the fairing. You couldn't hear it at all with the engine running.

So recently, I've been taking a little time to undo some of the things this officer changed to make his bike look like the hooligan bike he thought it should be. So the next time you see an officer of the law, wonder if you will if this is a hooligan cop too?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The KLR ABS Dilemma

The Kawasaki KLR650 may have many virtues, but strong brakes are not one of them. KLR people joke about KLR ABS, even though as a cheap motorcycle, there is no fancy electronic anti-lock braking system (ABS) available. KLR ABS is the fact that, with the stock front brake, its impossible to lock the front wheel on dry pavement. Not enough braking power. You certainly can't do a stoppie with a KLR.

Meanwhile, IIHS has come out with a study that shows that motorcycles equipped with ABS are 37% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than motorcycles without ABS. Its not in the IIHS study, but ABS also prevents stoppies, so I guess this guy will have to do his kissing the usual way.

In the case of a motorcycle, the most important factor in braking stability is avoiding front wheel lock-up. If you lock up your front tire, several bad things can happen. The best of these is that you can't change direction and slide head-on into an accident. More likely is that the front end will slide out from under the bike causing the bike to low side and the bike and rider slide uncontrolled into the accident. Finally, there is the possibility that you will pull an uncontrolled stoppie and fly over the handlebars.

So all things considered, it makes sense that ABS keeps the front wheel from locking up and the rider able to both stop and turn the bike.

Which brings me to the KLR dilemma. Riding with the weak stock brakes, I know that braking stability is pretty good on good pavement and I can brake aggressively and not lock up the front tire. On the other hand, I have to wonder if I couldn't be stopping shorter, if the brakes were stronger. As it happens, there is an inexpensive aftermarket fix for the brakes, a larger front disc kit which increases the available braking power by about 25%. Installing the big disc would let me stop shorter, but would take away my KLR ABS.

So the dilemma comes down to longer stopping distance all the time versus the potential to screw up and lock the front wheel in an emergency stop. To bad its not easy to add electronic ABS on top of good brakes on an older bike.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

California Reflections

They say that you start losing your sense of home after only a few days on the road. After three weeks or so, you have transferred your sense of home to some new place or the road itself.

Being gone for 8 weeks, I'm sure I lost my sense of home. In fact, after three weeks back home, I'm still waking up in the middle of the night not knowing where I am.

The first part of my trip, I was moving from place to place, so the road became my home, but the last month was spent in one place in Northern California. I think I got a sense of home and a pretty interesting, close up view of that community.

So I thought I would take the time to talk about the differences between wine country California and semi-rural Michigan.

To start at a 10,000 foot view, Chelsea and Healdsburg don't seem that different. They are both about the same age, started on agriculture, about the same size, and have similar architecture in the old town zone.

However, when you get a little closer, the differences appear. Chelsea has had a mix of industrial and agriculture for most of its life. Recently, its become a little bit of a bedroom community for Ann Arbor and Detroit, but in a middle class way.

In contrast, Healdsburg has had a strong agricultural base since the beginning and, with the popularity of California wine, has become a place to party and a place for second homes of the ultra rich from San Francisco.

Also, Healdsburg is food crazy. Everyone in town seems to be farming something. The dealer carefully grows a rare and delicious orange that is prized by fancy restaurants. He sells them to the restaurants or, in the case of Cyrus, a Michelin 2 star restaurant in Healdsburg, he barters them for dining.

There are said to be 50 fine dining establishments in Healdsburg, along with innumberable wine tasting opportunities and wineries. Some of the old families that have been growing grapes and making wine for generations are treated like royalty. They rank higher on the social ladder than some of the very rich and famous people with summer houses.

And a social ladder there is indeed. It ranges from the owners of Williams and Sonoma or the head of Wells Fargo on down to the poor illegals that were living under a tree behind the dealership. As I am only a professional engineer, I felt definitely below the middle and didn't feel welcome in the fancy establishments downtown. More than that, we were actually turned away from a restaurant, apparently because we didn't look "good" enough.

So most of my time was spent among the little people and eating at nice, but less expensive restaurants. I was curious how Chelsea food would hold up when I got home. I'm happy to say that I still enjoy Thompson's and Mike's and all my other haunts, even if its not as fashionable as Healdsburg.

Of course, the Healdsburg countryside is beautiful. I don't think Chelsea can really compete. Chelsea doesn't have rolling mountain hills or redwood forests or scenic vineyards but then, Chelsea doesn't have earthquakes or mudslides or wildfires or California taxes.

Speaking of taxes, how about 9% sales tax, 2% property tax, 11% income tax, and they are still going broke. It looks like the cost of living is just about 150% of Michigan, only you don't get paid more to live there. Its a privilege to live there and pay.

So Healdsburg is a really pretty place and a wonderful place to visit. But if you like friendly over snotty, if you like reasonably priced, if you like to be able to afford to do more than work and live, then Chelsea doesn't look to bad unless you are already rich.