A Tale of Two Test Rides

I’ve been wanting a new bike since Victory was killed. I’ve come up with tons of reasonable-sounding justifications, like parts getting scarce and so forth. The reality is: who doesn’t want a new bike if they can swing it? There’s shiny new things like touch screen nav systems and loud new stereos. Bigger engines with more torque. I was determined to swing it this year.

I wound up riding Victory for the past four years for a few  reasons: I really liked how they were styled, they were extremely good values, and here around Milwaukee there are so many Street Glides I couldn’t bring myself to join that crowd: yes I wanted something different and as long as you’re not buying garbage or spending a fortune to prove a point that’s fine.

Someday I’ll think about why it is that I’ve never “gotten” Harley people, it’s just not a community that’s ever called out to me (I realize how loaded that statement is). They are expensive, and at least when I started riding in the ’90s, there was no dealing: this is the price, fuck you, there’s 11 guys behind you if you don’t like it. The Motor Company, however, has been doing a lot of good work. First, they are focused on building riders in addition to motorcycles and this is huge. They upgraded their infotainment; they engineered some of the vibration out of their new bikes. The Motor Company is moving forward, but are they competitive with folks who didn’t grow up lusting for the shield and bar their whole lives?

I decided to ride two bikes back-to-back. I cannot stand the “batwing” fairing on the Harley Street Glide, it’s too retro, it’s too much like a C5 Corvette. However the “Shark nose” fairing on the Road Glide is unique and excellent. If I was to get a Harley, it would be a Road Glide.

As for Indian, I recognize that I was giving Polaris another chance to screw me over. Still, when they started offering bikes without the front fender sweep and came out with their new Ride Command system, I had to try one.

2019 Road Glide Special

First I headed to Milwaukee Harley Davidson to ride a 2019 Road Glide Special in Denim Red. If possible, I would get the burnt orange color shown at the top of this post.

Image result for 2019 road glide red denim

The last Harley I rode was the 103 engine, and it shook, a lot. I know this is part of the appeal for a lot of people but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve also long preferred the blacked out look to the chrome look; I could say I liked this “before it was on-trend” as Harley marketing says, but the reality is the first blacked out bike I ever saw was the now-extinct V-rod Night Rod. Not good for long trips, but this bike forever changed my mind on how a motorcycle should look.

Image result for v-rod night rod

The 2019 is a much more refined experience, very little vibration. While it took me a minute to get used to drive-by-wire, I found this bike to be powerful and enjoyable despite what felt like a lot of weight compared to my Victory. It was easy to pair my phone with the Boom system so I could hear some familiar tunes on the new radio.

Given what I had heard about the 114, I expected the engine to tear my head off with power, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was very powerful with low end torque and plenty of get up and go all the way through the RPM range. I think word-of-mouth had just left me with expectations that couldn’t be met. Still, a great bike anyone would be happy to own.

I got a number for my trade in and discovered that it would only take them two weeks to get the burnt orange color in.

2019 Chieftain Dark Horse

Next I headed to Indian Motorcycles of Metro Milwaukee to ride a 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse. My buddy Corvus came with me since he’d never ridden an Indian before.

Image result for indian chieftain dark horse

Fixed fairing vs. fork mounted fairing. Harley vs. Indian. How were they different?

Firstly, despite tipping the scales at very similar running weights, the Chieftain is a little lower and it makes it feel lighter than the Road Glide. I’m 5’9″ and this bike felt more maneuverable to me.

Secondly, in “standard” ride mode the ride by wire on the Chieftain feels even more twitchy than the Road Glide and I never got quite used to it.

The Thunderstroke 111 feels more torquey than the Milwaukee Eight 114 through the lower 75% of the RPM range. The Milwaukee Eight has more room to run through the top end of the range and particularly in 6th gear.

From the handling perspective, the Chieftain felt much more nimble. It corners like a cloud, and felt natural and controlled through roundabouts. The suspension was also fantastic: Wisconsin roads are generally terrible but even going over railroad tracks was very easy going.

Finally, I do think the RideCommand is a little bit better, and the 100watt stereo has power power than I’ll ever need even at 80mph in the rain: most songs are too loud at 3/10 on the volume dial.

So what did I decide?

In the end, the feel and the ride of the Chieftain Dark Horse was clearly the right ride for me, and I rode it home. My 2015 Victory Cross Country, whom I affectionately called Red Sonya, is no more. Say hello to Black Sunshine.

She’s totally stock for now, as I fight a cold Wisconsin “spring” for break-in miles. The exhaust and engine sound so good stock I don’t think I’ll be messing with it for a while, but a bigger windshield, back rest, highway pegs, etc. will be on the way soon.

Mama Tried 2019

It’s hard to believe that two years ago it was more than warm enough to ride to Mama Tried in February. Really, that’s what makes this part of the year in Wisconsin so difficult for me: I’m constantly staring at the extended weather forecast because we could thaw out any day now.

I don’t have a lot to say this year that I didn’t say about the 2018 show. I had various dad duties on Saturday, or I might have gone to the Chicago Motorcycle Show instead.

I did not spring for a press pass this year, so it was cell phone camera only, and I took some monumentally shitty pictures this year. Some people did ride through the snow, good on you guys.

Anyway here’s some bikes.

 

Goals for 2019

Like in 2018, I have some goals for 2019: Goals for what I’m going to do for the good of motorcycling in 2019 and goals for myself and my love of motorcycling.

  1. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a new bagger. Why? Nothing’s wrong with Red Sonya except that Polaris is no longer making Victory. Plus, well, who doesn’t love the excitement of a new bike when they can afford it? Once the dealers are doing test rides, I’ll be picking a new two-wheeled freedom machine and writing about the experience.
  2. Get one person their first motorcycle: I have someone in mind who’s very close to joining the life.
  3. Participate in ABATE Bikers in the capitol day. More information coming in a podcast soon.
  4. Take lots of video: watching bikers on youtube helps get me through the winter months.
  5. I need to get Mrs. Roadrunner on her bike. Like, a lot. Why should be obvious, but additionally…
  6. Late in 2019 I will start planning motorcycle trip around Scotland in 2020, riding its famous NC 500.
  7. I’m going to camp more than I did in 2018.
  8. This year I’m planning to ride:
    1. To either Colorado Springs or Pocatello to visit family. On the way could be Deadwood, Needles Highway, Cheyenne, Beartooth pass…
    2. The Hurricane Highway in the UP of Michigan
    3. US 2 in Northern Wisconsin
    4. The Hoka Hey off year event.
  9. And of course I’m going to keep spreading the idea that motorcycling is mindfulness.

That’s a lot of fun for a working guy with kids at home, but I’m willing to try. Additionally I’ll probably hit some of the yearly motorcycle events like the Slimy Crud Run, Momma Tried, Brewtown Rumble, The Milwaukee Rally, and other small scale goofing off.

Looking forward to a great 2019. I’ll see you on the road.

Cool Camping in Buckhorn State Park

It was 37 degrees the night before, but I was still excited to get up on Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 and ride towards Mauston & Necedah, WI to camp in Buckhorn State Park. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/buckhorn/

If there’s not snow on the roads, I need little excuse to ride somewhere. My friend Beefy has had a rough time of late, and he’s taking a rare and amazing space of time for himself. 7 days camping in a remote location alone; alone except for me joining him for one night. I had just come back from camping at the Tomahawk Rally and had a couple of new pieces of gear I was eager to try out.

I already carry a small complement of survival gear in my bags at all time: tactical flashlight, husqvarna hand axe, emergency fire starting materials (dryer lint, etc), towel, emergency hand warmers, and various other crap. The new gear I was bringing was a hand chainsaw and a Klymit sleeping matt.

You can see the chainsaw here. This comes from some experiences camping with just my hand axe and getting worn out trying to harvest deadfall. The good news is, the thing works well. The bad news is, it will make you overly confident and you’ll spend way too much time sawing through a 12″ log.

The Klymit sleeping pad is my second new addition. Compared to my ancient self-inflating Coleman sleeping pad, it’s a huge improvement. It packs up into about 1/3 the space, but you have to blow it up. Well, this non-smoker can inflate the Klymit in about 30 seconds and it is more comfortable and keeps you off the ground and warm. A good upgrade for sure. It still takes < 5 minutes to set up my camp.

We had an outrageously wet August & September in Wisconsin this year. Closer to Lake Michigan in places like Port Washington this mean roads washed out and homes flooded. Out in North-Central Wisconsin, it just meant standing water all over the place. Standing water means mosquitoes. Unbelievable plagues of mosquitoes. I just utterly hate any “real” bug spray with Deet in it, it makes me sick. I’ve tried a lot of natural repellents such as various kinds of wood (peña wood is a popular one) , lemon-eucalyptus bug sprays, and the like. The fact is, out in the north woods I can spray the organic shit directly on the mosquitoes and they lap it up like catnip. Only fire, tons of smoke, and/or extreme cold will do.

No problem. We’ll just make a fire. But everything is extremely wet. It’s been raining like crazy for a month. No problem: I’ll just cut wood in half, saw deadfall in half with my new hand chainsaw. Trim tiny slivers off with my Coupon Cutter. Shave magnesium filings off the primitive firestarter.
Fine, bust out the lighter.
Fine, bust out the bag of dryer lint I keep in my saddlebags for emergencies.
Fine, bust out the bone-dry peña wood I brought up just in case.
FINE. Pour the kerosene meant for the camp lamps onto this fucking mess.
I consider myself pretty good with fire, I can usually get a fire started with pretty primitive means, like careful knife work and a magnesium fire starter. It took us two hours to get a fire started. Still, when it’s a couple guys in the woods, what else do you have to do besides drink beer while you work on the fire?

Food acquired, we set about the work of cooking steak and mushrooms in a large cast iron pan. I’m a pretty handy cook at home, and I love primitive cooking. It was made easier this time by Beefy bringing his cage and more kitchen gear than I can usually fit in saddlebags. Glorious ribeyes and beers by an open fire are among the great simple pleasures of being alive.

Speaking of Beefy’s cage: I have a poor track record of converting cagers to riders. My wife is the only one I can claim credit for. However, we talked at length about how things were changing for him and that it was reasonable he could get a two-wheeled freedom machine soon. Another brother of the road? Yea, life is good.

My 3-layer military sleep system of nested bags can be a bit difficult to get into after a lot of beers, but waking up in extreme cold provides the necessary clarity. Beefy made eggs over a campfire that, once again, took too long to get rolling, and I rolled home and left him in his solitude.

Motorcycling is Mindfulness

“An hour on the bike is better than an hour with a therapist.”

-Unknown

A lot of us have heard or repeated this quote, but what does it mean? How many of us have actually experienced both the therapist and the knees in the breeze and can talk about the differences? I have, and it took me more than 20 years to figure it out. I’m a slow learner.

An hour on the bike is better, that’s true, but why is it true? We do our thinking on the motorcycle, we feel at peace afterwards, we crave this peace at the first sign of trouble. We miss this peace all winter.

We all kind of know what that quote means. It resonates with us. The simple pleasures of sunshine and the visceral experience of watching the asphalt go by are amazing, the feeling of wind on your body letting you know that time (and miles) have gone by. The feeling of rolling down a street you might have been down a thousand times in your cage, but it’s so much more real and immediate without anything between you and it. The smell of fresh cut grass that you wouldn’t have gotten with the windows rolled up. The sound of people talking on the sidewalk. A feeling of being in the world and not simply going through it.

For some of this, science is starting to come up with “the why”. Humans were meant to see green and blue and brown and thrive in an environment that looks nothing like the cubicles or assembly lines many of us work in; even our houses most likely clash with nature. Why do you think log cabins remain popular? Think about the difference between a primitive shelter or a tepee or a log cabin and your house: when you look around do you see a lot of wood grain and natural colors or a lot of linoleum and carpet and drywall? Why do you think hardwood floors and ceramic tile are so expensive and sought after? Why do you think a log cabin is so romanticized and sought after? We want to be comfortable, but we also want to see the colors and textures and feel the sensations that our ancestors did.

So, no matter what else happens or whatever we figure out about our grey matter, outside-y things are good for us. Still, being on two wheels is unlike anything else and there must be a reason for it.

The reason is that motorcycling is mindfulness.

Mindfulness

Mull that over. Can you drift off into inattention the way you can in a car? No. Are you alone with your own thoughts? Yes. Do you continually feel the wind on your face, the sun on your skin, your knees in the breeze? Yes. Do you notice sensations like smell and sound in ways you would not in a car? Yes. Thoughts and sensations are the contents of consciousness. The simplest action, such as stopping at a stop sign, takes on a significance that’s missing from many of our experiences. You don’t just press the stop button, you coordinate your front and rear brakes, downshift, allow the weight of the bike to lean ever so slightly to the left as your right foot remains on the brake, your left hand pulls the clutch, your left foot holds you up. You are present, moment by moment. The felt presence of immediate experience. Existing “now” in simple actions and the thoughts that gave life to those actions is surprising pleasing.

So why does that basic shit matter? Because it’s your life going by moment by moment, and that used to matter. So many of our experiences in the digitally-assisted world remove us from one, two, or all of the steps and experiences that used to keep us anchored to the moment, to our life. When you ask Alexa to add eggs to your shopping list, your are robbing yourself of context and experience. You perform an action without seeing what else is on your list, without thinking of the meals you’ll make with your family.

In addition to proper mindfulness, this is why the excitement and challenge of packing for a long trip has always made me feel happy and at peace.

When you have to pack your saddlebags and back pack for a 4 day trip, you are forced to remember that Amazon Prime won’t help you on the side of the road if you have to take shelter from a storm.

When you throw some beef jerky in your jacket, you are forced to remember that the things necessary for human life don’t magically appear when needed, and humans took over the planet because of our ability to think ahead and change our environment to suit us. Yet, we did it without a moment-to-moment anxiety storm that rendered us unable to act.

When you have to put on sunscreen at every gas stop, you are reminded that “the Earth” doesn’t give a shit if you live or die and keeping breathing only happens if you are ever vigilant.

When you carry a fix-a-flat kit because you know you’re buddy’s back tire is about to go, you are reminded that humans only took over the planet because we were more powerful in communities.

I have, at various points in my life, been prescribed pharmaceuticals or self-medicated with chemicals. That means: things my doctor prescribed me and over-the-counter drugs like “enough bourbon to not have to feel any emotions tonight”. I have sat with a PhD psychologist who tried to help me figure out my issues. You know what? I will never touch psycho-cocktails again, and I consume in moderation in favor of the only thing that’s actually maintainable and works. There’s a place for the head-shrinkers as we used to call it, but I’ve busted my ass getting to a place where I can look within and find answers on my own.

I meditate every day. Right now I’m on a 420-something day streak. I leave reminders for myself at work in subtle ways. The reminders say “Stop and breathe”. You have to learn the difference between things you think are relaxing and great because they are better than work/chores/screaming kids and the things that are therapeutic because they are allowing you to be mindful.

Mindfulness is Good for You

The health effects of mindfulness are hard to overstate. This is not hippie bullshit, this is what the hard sciences have to say:

  • Reduced rumination ( affects depression and generally stewing on things)
  • Stress reduction
  • Boosts working memory
  • Boosts Focus
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Many other bonuses…

Head on over to a page maintained by the American Psychological Association to read more about the specifics of these benefits. Take a look through that list again. How many people are living on chemical cocktails with the hope of getting some of those benefits?

We all like to read things that we already agree with. Many of us have made the argument to an impatient wife or girlfriend that we had to ride to work through something or quiet our mind to the point where the stress of the work week is no longer haunting us.

This is Two Wheeled Thoughts

Once you understand mindfulness, and how motorcycling is mindfulness, it makes all of your time on two wheels even more valuable. Adding some simple breathing, reflection, visualizations, or resting awareness into a ride amplifies the effects.

You’ll notice that there are experiences that naturally compliment this two-wheeled mindfulness. Experiences like camping, sitting down on a vista and appreciating nature, enjoying primitive cooking. Talking to people all night without iPads or Netflix in sight. Having great moments that you don’t instantly put on social media because you understand breaking out of that flow to get “internet attention” would defile the experience. Simply understanding that a great experience can be cheapened in the rush to instagram it is a huge leap forward.

This is Two Wheeled Thoughts. I rode for 20 years on and off before I began to understand the why of it all. This is what this site is all about. I don’t just throw this shit in people’s faces: a Saturday poker run is not the place to get on a soap box about examining the contents of consciousness and changing our relationship with anxiety or grief.  I am slowly doing the work though, I have a small circle of disciples and like-minded leaders that expands a little bit each year. If you come on a cross country trip or go motorcycle camping with me, you’ll wind up in front of a fire and we’ll be talking about things, getting real. You’ll wind up eating food I cooked over an open fire and taking a hit off my bourbon flask. Every year there’s a couple more people I convince to give me a few days of their time, and afterwards they get it. I hope they go on to show others. I am no guru, just a fellow traveler, and I try to show others that there’s something worth exploring here.

Motorcycling is not a “sport”, or a means of transportation, it’s a brotherhood and a way of life.

– David “Chubby” Charlebois, Executive Director ABATE of Wisconsin

You’ll find yourself at work, months after the trip you took with me, and find that you heart hurts horribly with the need for an experience like this. You’ll look at a calendar, the snow on the ground, and despair at how much calendar-space stands between you and the next chance to taste reality in a different way. To get you through it, practice mindfulness formally.

Motorcycling is mindfulness. You know what to do: go get healthy.

The Biker with the Electric Car

I haven’t been following the Harley LiveWire much, nor any of the other electric motorcycle options. Why?

Because I’ve been following electric car development for just over 10 years, I know where battery tech and the electric charging experience is at, and I’ve had experience with a Tesla Model 3 for a while now.

Story time: I recently attended a board of directors meeting for ABATE of Wisconsin in Wisconsin Rapids. Given the cold weather (more on this later) that meant a single charge (310 miles under ideal conditions) wouldn’t do it round trip. A stop at a Supercharger in Oshkosh on both legs of the trip was in order. Some quick facts based on the state of battery & charge in 2018:

  • Lithium Ion battery tech at this level does not last as long if you fully charge & discharge it every time. The suggestion is no more than 80% charge for daily community, only 100% for road trips.
  • On a NEMA 15-50 (dryer outlet) at home, you’ll recharge around 30 miles per hour of charge.
  • On a standard 10 amp/110 volt circuit, you’ll charge 1-2 miles per hour of charge.
  • Going faster and accelerating quickly uses a lot more juice. This is true of gas as well, but we tend not to think of it.
  • Cold weather decreases the range of lithium ion batteries for reasons we won’t explore here.

So, hitting the cruise control at 75mph at dawn when it’s 15 degrees outside meant the 80 mile trip to Oshkosh from my house took the battery down 120 miles of ‘range’. No worries, I pull into the Tesla Supercharge at Oshkosh and plug in. This is a specialized 80w circuit that piles in well over 100 miles per hour of charge. At least at first…

  • The closer you get to filling up a lithium ion battery, the slower it charges.

I’m able to nap a little bit, but I’m there for a lot more than an hour before I’m approaching full. Having seen what a lead foot did to my range, I slow down a bit and head to the Hotel Mead in Wisconsin Rapids and my ABATE meeting. There’s around 180 miles of range left as I park.

  • The battery will drain about 1% per day in ideal conditions, and more when it’s cold.

Sitting in the board meeting, I can see the battery range dropping. Quickly. It’s still between 15 and 20 degrees outside. 180 miles comes and goes… 170 miles comes and goes… 160 … range is dropping by the hour and visions of being towed back to Oshkosh are dancing in my head. I ask the hotel if I can plug in outside and someone graciously fetches me an extension cord. The bleeding stops, we have a great board meeting, and I drive home the next day.

I have good reasons for buying an electric car, but my two-wheeled freedom machine will be a gas-powered American V-twin for a long time to come.

Tesla has had 10 years at the breakneck Silicon Valley pace to build a nation-wide network of proprietary charging stations. The stations are meant to be able to get you “about anywhere” with their lowest range car, which is 200 miles. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks the LiveWire will have this kind of range, or that Harley will build a nationwide network of chargers. People who don’t realize how much tire inflation, wet roads, cargo weight, aerodynamics, acceleration, and hills affect their energy usage might be in for some difficult rides.

I ride to get away. In order to reach critical mass, companies are building electric infrastructure closest to where most people want to go most of the time. That’s the opposite of where I want to go on two wheels. I also stop in less than 200mile increments to stretch and sunscreen: adding in staggered charging station stops would make long trips painful. How fast will it charge? I don’t want to stop for a minimum of an hour every time.

For urban riders and those who primarily commute, electric bikes might be an option. I’ll be burning dead dinosaurs for a long time to come.