Thursday, September 30, 2010

Southern Indiana Roads

Even though my family is from there and there is a sense of history for me traveling through Indiana, I would probably take the roads of Southern Ohio or West Virginia over Southern Indiana. That said, there is no doubt that the roads are entertaining in Southern Indiana. In fact, there is a typical south Indiana landscape and road. The valleys are flat, bottom land made by creeks and rivers over time. The hills pop up steeply out of the valleys in crooked ridges that wind and fork in seemingly random design. The roads often follow the edge between the valley and the hill, sometimes popping up over the toe of a hill, sometimes winding up a little canyon, over the hill, and down into the next valley. On occasion, they climb up on a ridge and follow the top of the hill for a while.

Mixed in, there are little towns and farms and churches. And sometimes, like in Silverville, the town is quaint and the road beyond beckons.

So with all this entertainment, why do I prefer Ohio? Because Indiana has a penchant for posting a lower speed limit anytime the road gets interesting. Sometimes, even when its not interesting. So on the medium to bigger roads, you end up with a lot of 35 and 45 mph speed limits and the locals following the speed limit exactly, just like the cops were watching. Oh yeah, there is the occasional big sign stating the minimum ticket is $100 and there is a $1000 fine plus jail for being cited for reckless driving.

My solution was simple. I stayed on the county roads where the traffic was lower and the chance of getting caught speeding was much lower.

The names are fun though. On my way down, I went through Gnaw Bone, past Popcorn, and had lunch in French Lick.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old People Time

My niece, Amanda, cares about our family and likes to visit family members, both local and far away. That said, she does get bored with the older generation. She says that old people don't like to do anything but sit around and talk.

She also talks about "old people time". Its true, young people don't even start to go out until after 9 pm and seem to stay out all night. They think of the morning as a good time to sleep, getting up a noon or later.

I don't know how this generational shift occurred. When I was young, I went to bed early and got up early, just like now. But I have to concede, Amanda has a point about old people time. She says, 'They get up at the crack of dawn and go to be when the sun goes down.' She was recently proved right. Pat and I stayed at, what turned out to be an old peoples hotel. I slept in until almost 7 and went out for a walk while it was still dark. As I was starting my walk, there were 4 older couples loading up their gear, checking out, and ready to get on the road.

I guess young people own the night and old people own the sunrise.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Low Power Grin Factor

Between the KLR and ZRX and experience with the Fiat 500, this has been an interesting summer of contrasts. For years, Bob and I have been discussing the question of how big and heavy a vehicle you really need to move you around the world. But that's a bigger question that I'll leave for a later time.

This summer, I've been interested in the intoxication of power versus the everyday fun of driving/riding. Most people I talk to believe that fast cars and motorcycles are exciting and the most fun to own. I'm not so sure. I believe that a slightly underpowered vehicle that you drive/ride hard all the time is a lot more fun on a fun/mile basis than a really powerful vehicle.

Lets take my two motorcycles. The ZRX has about 130 HP and weighs 400 pounds or 635 pounds with me and my gear. That means about 5 #/HP or really bloody fast for a street vehicle. But this bike better be upright and pointed in a straight line when the rider goes for the throttle. Even then, if you don't want a ticket, that big twist on the throttle can only last a few seconds before its shift, shift, shift, and slow down to somewhere near the speed limit.

The KLR has 45 HP, weighs a few pounds less, and ends up with about 13 #/HP. That's not slow, but it is slow enough to need full throttle and frequent shifting. That said, I can twist the throttle while leaned over in a corner and run through the gears ending up only a little too fast.

The difference between these two descriptions is key to the problem. The reality is that the faster the car, the smaller the weight/HP, the more the engineers need to compromise the turning behavior to keep it stable. That means a less tossable, less capable cornering vehicle that has to wait for the straight to go fast. For me, the lower power vehicle that turns well and can be driven/ridden flat out all the time improves the percentage of time spent with a grin on my face.

How does that add up with cars. The picture above is a composite of the Dave's AREX engine and a internet stock photo of a Fiat 500. Dave's supercharged engine is about 600 HP at about 2600 pounds or 4.7 #/HP with me in the driver's seat. My AREX is only 475 HP at 2500 pounds, so 5.7 #/HP. The Fiat is roughly 20#/HP (a guess as the HP and weight for the US car aren't published).

Even though the AREX is a pretty good handling car with massive 335/35 tires out back, the same problem as the ZRX exists. The car has to have more built in understeer so that the wheels don't spin when the throttle is opened and the car goes better when you wait for the strait.

The Fiat on the other hand is hugely tossable, is a blast to shift, and drive flat out all the time. As a person who likes to be an active part of driving/riding, I think I'll stick to the lower powered vehicles in the future.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Motorcycle Safety

Different riders, have points of view on safety equipment.

Some think, "It will never happen to me." Not sure, but I think those are the riders in tank tops, flip flops, and shorts plus a helmet tied to the seat behind them.

Others recognize the need for good safety equipment, but if its not black leather and looking good, then they can probably get away without it.

I belong to the group where the latest safety equipment is like catnip. I just can't get enough of the best or latest. The old saying is, "If you have a 10 cent head, then wear a 10 cent helmet." I feel that way about my whole body and hope my head is worth more than one thin dime. There is always risk in motorcycle riding. I want to be visible and ride defensively to try to avoid trouble. If/when something goes wrong, I want the best possible protection.

My latest acquisition is a wearable air bag. These have been used in Japan and Europe for about 12 years. They operate on a CO2 cartridge and are controlled by a tether attached to the bike. When you and the bike part company, the tether pulls the trigger and inflates the air bag.

Here I am with the Hit Air bag vest over a black shirt for good contrast. The CO2 cartridge is on the right chest.

Of course, my hi-viz yellow vest wouldn't please the black leather crowd, but to me, loud colors are great. The color causes another problem. It doesn't go well with my new Egg Yolk helmet. Oh well.

The video below shows my model of air bag inflating. The real question becomes, do I feel a little too invincible with a good armored jacket and the Air Hit vest? Can I keep my head or will I twist the throttle just a little farther?