Saturday, November 15, 2008


A year ago, December 2007, as I was putting the beemer up for the winter, the price of regular gas had been bouncing around the $3.00/gallon range. I was not looking forward to a winter of driving the Jeep at those prices. In prime riding season I usually take the bike to work, maybe 75% of the time. As much as I enjoy riding, I've also let convenience enter the picture in the decision to ride. Need to pick up something bulky on the way home - take the Jeep. Rain predicted all day? Need to arrive at some meeting looking not-too-rumpled? 98 degrees predicted for the afternoon? All have been good reasons to drive instead of ride.

So last winter, as I was making some repairs to the beemer (more on that soon), I thought I could plan better, be less of a wuss and commit to riding all the time in the coming season.

I put the bike away about the time commuting begins and ends in the dark - end of November, early December. Despite the modulating halogen taillight, 85W headlamp, and Scotchlite (tm) covered saddlebags and riding gear it's hard to convince my family (maybe even me) that other drivers (many of whom are fully distracted in the summer) will see you through the rain, snow, mist, fogged and spray-covered windshields.

Even daylight riding ends at the first salt. We use salt on the main roads in Michigan and it is hard on a bike. More so when it's a dry day in the winter and pulverized road salt is in the air like fine dust - it gets into everything, around every recessed hex-head bolt, the intercom connectors under your seat, into cable ends, the horn... So the beemer gets winterized and covered until we've had a couple of good early spring rains to wash the salt out of the porous roadway. Usually that's about the advent of daylight savings time at the beginning of April.

Come mid-April 2008, regular gas is running about $3.39, and I'm back on the bike - a couple of weeks late because last fall's repairs hadn't fixed the real problem. But now that the bike is running well, I've changed the frame of reference to always ride unless there is a really good reason not to. Being more intentional about riding changed my default routine for commuting. Instead of deciding to ride each morning, I just rode.

It was now a competition. Wuss vs. Road Warrior.

Teri tells me I'm the fussy type. I need to at least imagine I am prepared for what may come. So for day-in-day-out riding, no excuses, this results in a planning ritual that begins with the night-before weather check, the morning weather-check, wardrobe and riding gear selection, and the packing plan for the day. BTW, if you're not using Weather Underground <> you don't have access to a truly useful weather planning tool. Among all their systems the animated, regional radar display they deliver is in my opinion the best short-term weather prediction tool. Try their site for a month and tell me if I'm not right.

The modern mesh riding suit with lightweight waterproof liners in the jacket and pants has made it possible to be comfortable and wear full body armor coverage every ride. I like the Olympia line. I've added an extra layer of soft armor in the hip area based on the location of the last two hematomas I gifted to myself (one was a street crash on a post-rain sandwash across a curve, the other a 100mph get-off on the track when another racer took us both down). The high-density impact foam is velcroed into the full-length side-zip pants, and split so it parts with the zipper. If you're going to glue velcro to foam or heavy fabric "Shoe GOO" is highly effective.

A change of attitude and a few tools to give me the illusion of preparedness made me very comfortable regardless of conditions. More than having good rain gear, my biggest insight was to wear all my riding gear into the office on 95 degree days, rather than to stow it in the black plastic side cases. That kept the suit at A/C temps until I could get underway on the bike. Much better than standing in the hot sun while donning riding gear that had been stored in a bake oven.

So for me it was a pretty decent accomplishment to ride everyday from April 14 - November 13, with just 4 days in the car (ferrying visitors around campus and hauling things too big to hang on the bike). I envy those who either by geography or fortitude ride year-round. I have had one year where I rode at least a few days every month of the year (the year I learned to appreciate the powers of road salt).

The beemer is in the middle of being winterized this weekend. I need to make room in the garage for my son's car, which needs a couple of months of love to get it running again. The Ducati needs a refresh before next year's trackdays and there is just room for one bike and two cars. In summer, two bikes and one car

Gas peaked around here at $4.39 in late summer. Wednesday evening it was at $1.99, the lowest around here since late 2004, early 2005 <>. I am looking forward to next year, having changed my baseline for riding - no matter what the prices are.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

BMW Twins

My daily ride is a 1999 BMW R1100RS, purchased in April 1999 and ridden home in a driving rain for my first ride in almost 20 years. The RS, the half-faired "sport"-tourer of the first generation oilhead boxers, was never a big seller in the U.S. I think they imported less than 200 that year. More people were buying the full fairing and touring package of the RT model, or the cafe racer-esque styling of the just-introduced R1100S.

The half-faired RS was my preference. I love to see the engine out in the open, but enjoy enough fairing and windscreen to make a 600-mile day a pleasant ride. I like air-cooled engines for their simplicity, and the boxer's twin lumps hanging out in the breeze make for easy servicing. You can change the plugs or even pull a cylinder head without removing the tank or a fairing panel (not true for changing the fuel filter, which is a non-intuitive hours-long adventure).

I have also harbored a small-ish secret pride in the exclusivity of this RS. In almost 10 years of riding mine, I've only see a half-dozen or so on the road. In Ann Arbor, I had seen two: one red and one in midnight blue. I've seen them each just once while driving a car, and each time I thought the least I should do is turn around and follow them, to where I don't know, introduce myself and assure them their RS' have a long-lost cousin who'd like to meet them.

This past spring, I left a meeting on campus and crossed the street to my bike, when I saw my RS, or what looked exactly like it, turn out of the bike lot and head up the street. By the time I looked to confirm that my bike was still where I had parked it and attempt a friendly wave the other RS was gone.

This left me just plain goofy. There was another black R1100RS in town. I had that one ephemeral chance to make contact with a previously unknown RS next-of-kin and missed it again. A black one too.

How goofy is that?

The next week I pulled in and there it was again, parked in the lot. I parked next to it and gave it a good walk-around. I pulled out my business card and wrote "Cool. I've got the same model." and tucked into the gap between the rider's seat and the pillion. But I never heard from the other rider. Over the next few weeks I would arrive for a meeting in this part of campus, park in the bike lot next to the other black RS and still be a little amazed at this coincidence.
At home, Teri was feeling increasingly sorry for me that my big report for the day was "It was there again."

When I finally met Wes, the owner of the other black RS, he was leaving for the day and I was just arriving for a meeting. I introduced myself, to which he replied "Oh, the guy who left the card. Yeah, I noticed our bikes look alike." Wes' RS is also a 1999. I'm calculating the odds on two black, 1999 BMW R1100RS' being in the same town, no, the same parking lot... at least 1% of all the 1999 RS models in the US are parked here right now. It would be an even higher percentage if I knew the color breakdown.

"Yeah, it's kind of cool," says Wes. "Same color, year, everything. Looks like you wash yours, though. I'll have to try that some time."