Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Burkes Garden

I have always been attracted to quiet places.  When I was a kid, I wanted to buy Round Island and live in the Lighthouse.  Not a very practical fantasy.

After living for years in crowded California, I moved back to Michigan and began my house search.  Once again, I was tempted by a quiet place, a home for sale with a 1/4 mile driveway, 30 acres and surrounded on 3 sides by state wildlife land.  But I came to my senses and bought a house with a bit of privacy, but still close enough to people so that I didn't become a hermit.

On a recent motorcycle trip, I visited a quiet place that manages to be both quiet and community.  It's called Burkes Garden in western Virginia and it starts out with rather unique topography.  As you can see from the photographs, it is a high valley surrounded by mountains with only a small gap for the water to flow out of the valley and into a narrow valley.  From the air, you might think its a crater from a volcano or meteor strike, but scientists tell us that the valley was formed when a massive cavern collapsed under the mountain.  Sometimes called "God's Thumbprint", it remains a remote and beautiful valley, especially because the valley access is a climb over a mountain ridge that drops into a valley far from towns and services.

On my visit, after climbing up the mountain and down into the valley, I came through the gap to a large pond held behind a dam.  My first clue that this was a quiet place was when I disturbed two bald eagles who had been fishing in the pond.  They flew parallel to me on the bike for 50 yards before turning away from the road.  Magnificent. 

The community living in the valley consists mainly of farmers, about half of them Amish.  Interestingly, the little general store that I stopped at for lunch is run by a friendly Amish lady who was originally from Reed City, Mi.

I mentioned it was both a quiet place and a sense of community.  While I was eating my lunch, a non-Amish farmer came into the store and I was privileged to overhear a conversation about Amish and non-Amish coming together to build a community meeting place and music venue.  It's cool that the valley is remote enough to be quiet and yet remains a friendly community with residents supporting each other.  The valley must be pretty isolated sometimes in winter.  At 3000 ft elevation, its high enough to get snow and I wouldn't want to go over that mountain on a snowy road.

What a nice and interesting place for a closet hermit like me.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Following my nose through the countryside

For the first 35 years or so of my driving career, I always owned at least one convertible.   With the top down, you can see more, especially looking up.  You feel more out in the world and there is also the smell factor.  I would argue that the sense of smell is the second most important sense for exploring the countryside.

As I have transitioned to a motorcycle for my explorations, I've kept most of the good things about the convertible.  Ok, I don't get the wind in my hair because of the helmet, but you truly feel like you are out in the world with lots of fresh air, a full view, and all the smells.

There are exhaust smells, wet leaf smells, and factory smells.  The summer I worked at the GM Proving Grounds, I was driving the Sprite and I could have told you blindfolded where I was when I smelled this one small factory.  The smell was a mix of hot linseed oil, WD40, and something electrical getting too hot. I never did figure out what they made at that factory.

I admit, there are smells that I might rather do without, but the clean, fresh breeze when you come over a mountain pass makes up for any nasty smells.

The most common smell is that of freshly cut grass.  Since I have hay fever, I hold my breathe, but I still know its there.

Surprisingly, at least to me, is that the second most common smell is laundry soap.  Both strong and easily recognizable, I never realized how much scent I was putting out when I did my laundry.

Its a shame we are more and more isolated from the outdoor world.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I'm in Love with my Car

Although this is an old video, I had never seen it before.  Good car songs are few and far between.

I love the line, "Tell my girl, I have to forget her.  Gotta buy me a new carburetor."

Great images!  Someone had access to a really good library of video.

And, although the video isn't great, here is one of my favorite unknown car songs by Little Village.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Two Bike the Same/Different

One of the things that surprised me most was how different in feeling the KLR and KTM were for handling.  Just looking at the bikes, you would think they were pretty similar.  Yet they are so different that I have needed 9000 miles and most of two riding seasons to learn how to ride the KTM, at least on twisty roads with good pavement.

The way that I think of it, you rode the KLR a little bit like a dirt bike, even on pavement.  The bike wanted a lot of lean angle to initiate the corner, so I would lean the bike without leaning my body to start the corner, then lean my body to balance the bike as the lateral acceleration required.  This is very different from the way sport bike riders are taught to enter a corner, but it worked on the KLR and I rode the KLR for almost 15 years, so it became my riding "style".

Using this riding style, I had great confidence in the front end and, because I didn't have much horsepower, I was able to enter corners at higher speeds and keep my momentum up.

Needless to say, this didn't work on the KTM.  Over the two years and 9k miles, I tried many different ideas, including the traditional approach of moving your body center of gravity to the inside of the curve before beginning entry and then keeping the bike as vertical as possible to stay on the middle of the tire.  In the end, it took a combination of the sports bike technique with the addition of leaning/moving my weight forward before the corner.  Without adding a bit of weight to the front end, I just didn't have any confidence in the front end on corner entry.

That got me to wondering, what was different between the bikes.  Looking at the specs, the difference remains a big question to me.

Lets start with rake and trail.  This diagram was borrowed from Motorcycle Cruiser on line and I thank them.

You might say, feeling the front end should have a lot to do with rake and trail.  Let's see;

KLR rake 28 deg., KTM rake 27 deg.  Not much difference there.
KLR trail 111 mm, KTM trail 112 mm

Wheelbase can have a big effect on handling and the feeling of responsiveness.  Maybe the KTM has a shorter, more responsive wheelbase.

KLR 1490 mm, KTM 1504 mm

Seat height, the KTM is 3/4" higher
Suspension travel, KTM has 3/4" more travel at both ends
Dry weight - finally a real difference - the KTM is 40 pounds or about 10% lighter without fuel.

Still, I can't see any of these specs explaining the differences in handling I see between the two bikes.  I still have a lot to learn about bikes and what makes them work.

Monday, June 25, 2018

How many bikes are enough?

Just a short thought.

For years, I thought one bike was fine.  Then I got the ZRX1200 and because it wasn't that comfortable, nothing really changed.  I found that I didn't ride very often locally, in part because it takes more effort to suit up and I was too lazy to do that for a 5 mile trip to the store.  Also, there was always a trip coming up and I wanted to clean up the bike, change the oil, adjust the chain and leave it ready for the next trip.  Riding around locally just meant I needed to do maintenance twice because of the local miles.

This year, I finally have the KTM working well, but I haven't found a new home for the KLR.  After doing maintenance on both bikes, I realized that I could leave the KTM ready for the trip and still ride the KLR.  Hmmmnnnn.....  Maybe having two bikes isn't such a bad idea.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Cross Wind Stability - Trunk or Panniers?

One big difference between the KLR and the KTM is the choice of luggage.  On the KLR, I decided that would keep everything in line with my body.  After all, my body is a large, high drag body that just about doubles the frontal area of the bike.  So, I chose a trunk and a large tank bag.

Of course, one of the downsides of this approach is that I had to "step thru" which isn't easy on a tall bike.  The other potential downside was that the side view cross section area was large and high which might cause problems in a cross wind.  Cross wind stability has been a consistent problem on the KLR.  I remember getting off the highway and parking on a side road facing into the wind because I was afraid I was going to blow over if I kept riding.

On the KTM, I bowed to being a bit older.  I knew that at some point "stepping thru" was going to require flexibility I wouldn't have.  So I went for a small tank bag and panniers mounted as low and forward as possible. 

I also hoped that the KTM would be better in a cross wind, but that didn't work out so well.  Of course, the KLR wasn't perfect in a cross wind, but I would have to say the KTM is worse. 

Imagine you are riding on a highway, 10 mph below the speed limit and leaning into the wind 10 to 15 degrees.  It feels like the tires might slip out from under you and when a gust comes along, the bike is moved over by 1 lane or more.  Scary stuff.

However, there is a technique that is helpful.  The scariest part is the bike being moved sideways, especially if that puts you off the road.  It turns out that, if you lean way forward, you put more weight on the front wheel and move the lateral center of pressure forward.  In this position, the bike doesn't steer away from the wind as badly.  You might even balance out the front and rear so that you are still leaning, but the bike doesn't feel like it's going to slide out from under you.

In the end, the choice between trunk and panniers isn't really a side wind stability thing.  Tall bikes are bad for side wind stability either way.  At least with the KTM, I can lean further forward as I am not limited by the tank bag.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Village Divided

Back in the early 80's, when I was working for VW,  my host on my first visit to Wolfsburg made a point of showing me around.  We had a drink at the Alter Wolf, an inn and pub that was a postal and customs house in the 1700's.  We drove by the castle that was the genesis of the town.  And we drove out into the country to view the Iron Curtain between East and West Germany.  We visited a small village, similar to the one in the photo above, that had been split by the divide, complete with fences, wall, and machine gun towers.  It was a pretty scary and stark image.  My host told me of the families that had been divided along with the town.  Forty years on at that time, generations had grown up not knowing their family members living only meters away.

Nothing as extreme as the Iron Curtain, but I was recently traveling back roads in eastern Ohio and ran across a village divided.  The village that was built around the junction of 4 small creeks.  It has been a hard winter and the bridge through the center of town was damaged and closed by the creek.  It wasn't a complete washout, you could still probably walk across, but otherwise it is like two separate villages.  Depending on weather, first responders like ambulance and fire have a 30 mile detour to get to the other side of town.

Ohio road officials know that they have to fix this one, but they don't have a contractor willing to do the job at the moment, so they don't know when it will be fixed.  That got me thinking about how small town and country infrastructure is being neglected and underfunded.  It's creating ghost towns and defacto iron curtains, like this bridge job.  Sure, lot of people are moving into cities, but we should be able to support the small places too.  I just don't want us to end up with a city like the one in Logan's Run.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Intelligence and Creativity

I have been known to talk about the zen of the motorcycle helmet.  While I am ridding, I am working my body and aware of my surroundings and the tasks required to manage them, but I am at least partially disconnected mentally and sometimes find creative solutions in that space.
It turns out that this is a pretty good way of thinking about creativity and intelligence.  This link takes you to an interview with an expert on intelligence and creativity.  It's a pretty long read, but there are some interesting ideas in it.


 Quoting one of my favorite parts;

"So with intelligence, there’s you know, the analogy I've used is there's this superhighway in the brain that allows you to get from Point A to Point B. With creativity, it's a slower, more meandering process where you want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there, to put the ideas together."

So, now you  know why you are looking at pictures of back roads.  It's time for all of us to start meandering and get creative.
 One other interesting idea from the interview is that we reach our peak intelligence potential in our 40's.  After that, the connections in the brain start to degrade.  But the cool thing is that when those connections degrade, the opportunity for creativity grows.  Those fewer connections make it easier for the brain to meander and create.

Friday, February 23, 2018

At Last. A Winter Like My Childhood

I know most of you hate winter and can't wait for it to be over.  But for me, it is part of my favorite memories and something I enjoy very much today.

Alas, my work kept me going off to warmer climates in the winter, sometime being gone more than 2  months each winter.  I counted it up.  It has been 38 years since I got to enjoy a whole winter.

One of the things that I looked forward to in retirement was being able to enjoy a whole winter without interruption.  Alas, the first two years of my retirement were a big disappointment, almost no winter at all.  But this year, we are finally getting a winter I can be proud of.

A few weeks back, in the January thaw, my sister and I went north because she had never seen Michigan's Upper Peninsula in winter.  So I thought I would share a few photos from that trip that I had already been sharing by email.  These are a mix of mine and my sister's photos.

A Copper Harbor Invitation

Pine Grove Cemetery

  Ice on Eagle Harbor

 The Eagle Harbor Light

The north coast of the Keweenaw

Sunset from the Mackinaw Bridge

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Very Best of Advertising

I ran across this in an old draft post that I never got around to finishing.  For me, as the audience, this is the very best that advertising can be.  It's memorable, exciting both visually and audibly, I remember what the product is and who is the company, and I want to support their product.  And it's a little funny too.


Turn up the volume and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A few More Street View Twisties - Thank You Google

I'm still working on riding routes for this summer.  I use Google Street View to see what the road conditions are and what date the Street View was photographed.  Since W. Virginia is fracking country, you can't count on older Street Views, a lot could have changed with the fracking trucks.

Once in a while, I come on a Street View picture that just makes me smile.  So all honors and attribution to Google for these two photos.  I couldn't resist sharing them.


Sunday, January 7, 2018


Something has changed in the headlight world while I wasn't paying attention.

Back in the early 2000's, HID headlights were a premium car, premium option that cost more than $1000.  It was mainly OE, but you could find aftermarket options if you were willing to pay $800 per headlight.  So I lived with Halogen and wondered about the future LEDs, but I knew that just changing to an LED bulb wasn't going to work because the LED doesn't work as a point light source like the Halogen, so the reflector design is all wrong.

I'm in my 6th winter with my Fiat.  In the past, I didn't need to drive much at night since I was out of town much of the winter.  This last couple of years, I have been driving more at night and noticing that the Fiat headlights are not great.  The Fiat uses a kind of projector headlight, but rather than 4 lamps (2 low, 2 hi), they use only 2 lamps and have a mechanical shutter to form the cutoff in low beams.

Having 4 lamps on high beam is a real plus for cars that are built that way because the light from each of the lamps adds together to make things brighter.  So even though the projector headlight in the Fiat may be a good design, it isn't very bright on high beam.

This point became critical when I was down in West Virginia looking for motorcycle roads.  I'm on twisty, hilly, and narrow roads in the country and it's pitch black darkness at only 5 pm.  I just can't see enough to keep going at any speed.  Ok, so my eyes are getting older and we can blame them as much as the headlights.

That evening down in West Virginia, I started looking online to see if there was a brighter bulb or something available.  What do you know.  Since the last time I paid any attention, HID conversion kits have become much cheaper.  First of all, the HID bulb is very similar to the Halogen in the idea of a point light source.  So they can make an HID bulb to work well in the the housing of a Halogen headlight.  I guess the market grew and the cost of electronics became smaller, because now you can buy a cheap HID conversion kit for as little as $30.  There are some issues with the cheapest versions, so even a better quality version can be had for less than $100.

Today I installed my HID conversion kit.  It was a bit fiddly as the British say, but it went together nicely and only took a couple of hours.  I just got back from a test ride and it's totally worth the effort.

First you turn on the headlights and get a FLASH.  Then it's like a slightly slow fluorescent bulb where it dims after the flash, then slowly gets brighter over 4 or 5 seconds.  By the way, you get to choose your color and I chose 6000K which is slightly blue but mainly white.  Much whiter than the 4300K original Halogens.  A whiter light makes it easier to see details at night, so I'm already ahead of the game.  And the light is so much brighter.  I'm ready to jump in the car and go back to West Virginia.