Forest fires and bikers

I’ve been watching the KTLA online feed of the North fire. The fire crossed the 15 near the Cajon Pass and is traveling unhindered on its way. The wind funnels up the pass and drops down onto the flat. I don’t think it will bode well for any homes in its path.

In another life well-lived, I spent 4,000 hours of helicopter flight time on forest fires in northern Canada. A lot of it came back to me in a huge rush while watching the feed. I had to load a mapping program to follow the progress of the news helicopters as they patrolled the perimeter with eyes high in the sky. The resolution of the camera from 8,500 feet is phenomenal.

There were no DC-10 airtankers back in the old days.

But I digress.

I couldn’t resist centering the map over a former favorite watering hole.

The usual suspects were in Fontana at a biker rally. One p.m. (that’s right, one in the afternoon) came and went, and, being the irresponsible, thirsty louts we were, we saddled up and headed for the 10. At the 215 we turned south and pulled off at La Cadena. For the uninitiated, it’s the home of the Club 215, a peeler bar renowned for nothing in particular but for being two stories high, with a balcony.

It was also on the way home, if you took the slight detour I outlined.

We liked the place because we could get out in the fresh air, wander around, and watch the sights – of which there aren’t many in Coulton. The girls liked it, too. Since we were the only ones in the club at that early hour, they wandered in and out to chat. I won’t go into details, but by early evening, it was long past time to herd the lads home.

I knew that, because beer bottles began floating down from the second story balcony to explode in the parking lot. Seeing as I was the only illegal in the club (I checked – there were no Canadian girls performing), and being of sound mind, I made an informed decision.

It was time to roll.

With the able assistance of a couple of the ladies, we managed to get the boys down the stairs without anyone falling down. Out in the parking lot, it was an entirely different story.

Tommy threw a leg over his Sporty, collapsed the kickstand, put both feet on the pegs, and headed on his way, eager to be in the wind. The problem was, he hadn’t bothered to light the fire. He promptly fell over with both feet on the pegs while still gripping the bars.

Much laughter ensued.

Eventually, we managed to get Tommy untangled and out from under his Sporty. We made sure to keep him on the bike as we helped him up. Once we got him straight and level, I started the engine, put it in gear, and slapped him on the back.

Away he wobbled.

It was a simple matter to head south on the 215, hit the 60 at Box Springs, and meander on down the road on the 10 to the 62 turnoff. I got to ride sweep to clean up the debris on the way home.

It was an uneventful ride on a normal California day under sunshine and blue sky.

I miss it sometimes, but not often, now.

It’s a good day to ride

Updated July 2011: Scooter Tramp Scotty has more to say about his riding life over on Here’s a link to his description of life on the road. If you ever wanted a big picture of what it’s like to wander the highway highs and lows on a motorcycle, check it out.

*     *     *

Contrary to this guy and his wrong-way Corrigan Mexico motorcycle trip, Scotty Kerekes, a long-time rider and old Mexico hand, knows how to do it right. Ignore the typos, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I’ll listen and read about Scotty’s adventures before those of almost anyone else.

Scotty used to have a web site a few years ago, but it’s long gone now as he continues to ride across North America and Mexico on his overloaded bagger. Occasionally, he’ll stop long enough to write something and post it on the web, usually with photos.

Here’s Scooter Tramp Scotty’s Mexican Winter adventure.

And here’s another: Return to New Orleans.

Nolan N43 Trilogy helmet

Update July 2010 After a ride of over 4,000 miles, in very hot temperatures and very heavy rain and hail:

This helmet is noisy. If you’re looking for a quiet helmet, this isn’t the one. Around town it may be all right, but earplugs are necessary for any long distance riding. That’s no problem for me since I wear earplugs all the time.

It’s also somewhat hot. Thankfully, the liner is removable for washing. I wear welding caps underneath, rather than the silk liners. The welding cap seams are sewn flat, unlike the bulky silk liner seams, which will cut into your bald head after a couple of hours.

Behind the fairing on my FLHT the water beads up on the visor. It didn’t appear to be a problem at speed, nor during low-speed riding around town. Very heavy rain and hail presented no problems as far as I’m concerned. I was concerned about having the visor fog over at low speed under these conditions, but fogging was minimal at low temperatures in the rain.

Wearing this helmet in the rain presents a multitude of problems. It fogs and beads with water. I don’t recommend it at all in the rain.

The sun visor is a definite bonus during early-morning or late-evening riding, and actually very nice to have all day.

I prefer to have the removable chin bar installed for around-town riding. I actually like that feature a lot.

The Microlock system is by far a much better arrangement than the D-ring, since it allows fastening on or off while wearing gloves.

An added bonus: My Aerostich Darien jacket and pants kept me warm and completely dry in the most vicious thunderstorm cells I have ever encountered while riding. An all-day heavy rain didn’t even test the suit. I bought these years ago, and they continue to perform flawlessly.

Nolan N43 Trilogy, brand-new from Italy, complete with DOT certification for North America.

  • It’s a polycarbonate shell.
  • It looks like a full-face helmet, and in fact it is, but…
  • The chin bar is removable. Thus it can be worn as a 3/4.
  • It has a built-in tinted sun visor with a nose indent. The sun visor can be flipped down or up, or partially in either direction.
  • The main visor has only two positions: down, or full up.
  • It comes with my favorite fastening system – an adjustable quick-release Microlock chin retention strap. The Microlock is easy to use with gloves. I really dislike those D-rings so predominant on North American helmets.
  • The liner is removable and washable. That beats putting the helmet in a dishwasher to clean the liner every year.

Best of all? I sized it according to an old Shoei Synchrotec that I own, and they both match perfectly as a size Large.

Nolan N43 Trilogy

The Nolan N43 Trilogy

A built-in sun visor

The N43 Trilogy has a built-in sun visor, accessible with the flip of the left-side slider. Here it is with the chin bar removed.

With the chin bar installed, I can’t put the helmet on while wearing glasses. With the chin bar removed, I can pull the helmet comfortably past my sunglasses. Fortunately, if I want to install the chin bar after putting on the helmet, its easy enough to do.

If you’ve got a protruding chin, this isn’t the helmet for you if you want to wear it with the chin bar installed.

There’s plenty of lateral visibility out of either side due to the wide cutouts.

With the chin bar attached

The ability to remove the chin bar is a nice feature out on the highway. Believe it or not, I prefer the chin bar for around-town riding. There's just too many left-turners blowing through lights.

The visor is either down or up; there’s no in-between. It does come down the full length to cover my chin. It’s also UV400 protecting according to the documentation.

I wear earplugs. Even so, this helmet has noticeable wind noise, and I sit behind a fairing on my bagger. It doesn’t bother me, but the wind noise could be annoying to others.

For highway riding, I prefer the chin bar removed from the helmet. That removable chin bar is a nice feature, and part of the reason that I bought this helmet.

I like the ability to install the chin bar for around-town riding. There are just too many cagers blowing through lights, and I appreciate the value of a full-face helmet in those situations.

Motorcycles emit pollution. Get over it.

Introductory lede:

It’s a popular misconception that motorcycles burn cleaner than cars: most of them don’t. –, Costa Mouzouris

Next paragraph:

In fact, the only reason that they spew fewer greenhouse gas emissions into the air than four-wheeled passenger vehicles…

So which is it? Do they? Or, don’t they?

all current models (of motorcycles) meet North American emissions standards…

That kinda sums it up for me.

He’s not done yet though. He concludes with

the fumes emitted by those dual, upswept mufflers are still not up to the standards that they should be…

I’m left wondering just what those fume emission standards should be for motorcycles with “dual, upswept mufflers”. Who has dual, upswept mufflers on their motorcycles? Who might ride motorcycles with dual, upswept mufflers? Does he mean biker motorcycles? Just some motorcycles? All motorcycles? Does the author know or understand the difference between a motorcycle and a scooter? Does he know that two-cycle engines burn oil mixed with gas?

Link to article here.

I’ve read the article several times now, and I’m still confused by it all. Although, I do understand that in Canada, there are approximately 18,000,000 passenger automobiles registered and 409,000 motorcycles. I’d say motorcycles are the least of the problem during the five-month riding season and seven months of heavy-sledding-winter for which Canada is renowned.

Here’s a link to a 2001 British study that demonstrated the following conclusion:

The overall emissions from motorcycles are low in comparison with other road vehicles and are not expected to grow dramatically in mass terms.

Now then, if only we could regulate how long those Torontonians wearing their frost-stained long-johns idle their automobiles to keep warm while commuting. That would be an accomplishment.

Rain rules

This summer, I was riding wet for many of the miles I traveled. I own a good Gore-Tex rainsuit, so I stayed dry. Being the lazy SOB that I am, however, I let my feet get wet because I never put on my gaiters. Fortunately, it wasn’t cold.

  • Looking for some rain gloves? Visit a grocery store and buy dishwasher gloves. The price can’t be beat. Added bonus: they come in two colors — blue and yellow.
  • Green or orange garbage bags make good covers for anything that’s held on with a net. The net will keep the plastic bag from shredding.

On the rainy highway, traction is a major consideration at speed, and hydroplaning is never far away on two wheels if your speed is high. Hydroplaning can occur any time one rides through the puddles that collect in the lowest part of the roadway, primarily the two tire tracks running the length of each lane. It can be avoided by riding on the high spots and by keeping tire pressure on the high side. Running on bald tires isn’t good either.

In built-up areas, anything metal such as manhole covers and bridge gratings, painted lines, and places where oil and grease have not washed off become a lot more slippery when first wet.

Railroad tracks are a sleeper, and can bite hard when being crossed at anything other that parallel or almost-parallel, especially in the wet. If your tire slips into the groove running alongside the track, it will ruin your day.

Thunderstorms are scary when you’re in the middle of one out on the prairie. Being the highest point on a flat plain or at the top of a bald hill when the lightning comes crashing down is not a smart place to be. Avoid it, at all costs, or one day you’ll be sorry. Take a break at one of those fancy Canadian rest areas.

Last, but not least, don’t delay when putting on the rain suit. Riding just a little farther to see if it will clear is not always a good thing if you want to stay warm and dry. Ask me how I know.

To sum up, in the wet:

  • Painted lines are slippery. Keep that in mind when turning or braking at crosswalks or any time you cross them.
  • Ditto for manhole covers, grated bridges, and bridge expansion joints.
  • Railroad tracks require a careful crossing so as not to slip into the groove.
  • Hydroplaning is a real possibility with excessive speed and under-inflated or bald tires.
  • Botts’ dots* or any other raised lane indicators are slippery and could cause tires to slip off of them.
  • Gas stations are particularly slippery in pump areas. All the clunkers get parked there, leaking and weeping.
  • Avoid riding during a thunderstorm when you’re going to be the height of land that the lightning will be searching for.
  • Put the suit on early if you want to stay warm and dry.
  • Slow down.

* Botts’ Dots are used on California multi-lane freeways. They come colored, round and square. Most are white; center markers are amber; wrong-way markers are red; fire hydrant markers are blue. They are being used on the highways of other states as well.

Roadside assistance for the distressed

I’m still on the north shore of Lake Superior.

It was cloudy and cool this morning.

Having only 140 miles to go, I took my time and got on the road by 0900. Unfortunately, I had to stop to put on the rain pants since the highway was wet. There was only the occasional drop of water on the windshield, so it must have rained much earlier.

At about the 20 minute mark I was flagged down by a kid out of Manitoba on an ’84 Yamaha two-banger. He was heading south also, but his engine died. Without tools, he couldn’t do much. I loaned him some of mine (the ones he could use, since I don’t carry metric) and he drained his two fuel bowls.

Clear and bright.

The plugs were good. The plug leads were a tad sketchy (thanks for that word, Kayla) and broke off in my hand.

That’s normal, sez the kid.

Well, okay, I guess. It’s his bike.

He’s done all the work on it to date. He’s got a nice hand-made spiderweb lower fairing. It’s not actually a fairing, but if it were covered, it would be.

Eventually, he manages to get to the fuel filter. It has fuel in it, so he thinks it’s okay.

Not necessarily, I tell him. Why not pull it, drain some into that empty Tim Horton’s cup and see what it looks like?

I’ll do that, sez the kid.

Hmm. Grass. How did green lawn grass get into the fuel filter, I ask?

Dunno, sez the kid.

The fuel line gets reconnected, the kid engages the starter, and away we go.

Problem solved.

During this series of events, an interested OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officer drives by a couple of times, passing in both directions and obviously on his highway patrol, giving us the eye. Finally, he can stand it no longer and pulls in behind us to see what the hell is going on.

He turned out to be a pretty nice guy, actually, giving helpful advice and offering clean gas to the kid.

I don’t know if the kid accepted or not, because once the motorcycle turned over, I collected my tools and got back on the road.

It poured for the remainder of my 100 mile ride.

My thanks to Aerostich and their Darien rain gear. It’s kept my ass dry for decades now.

*     *     *

Not too many riders stop for a motorcycle by the side of the road any more. There are too many RUBs out there who think a cell phone and a trailer can solve all the problems one might encounter.

Even if one of those guys were to stop, his assistance would be limited to going for gas, or to make a phone call. Mechanical help wouldn’t be an option, I’m certain. Tools? Why carry tools? I have a five-year warranty.

Unfortunately, in the boondocks (believe me, the north shore of Lake Superior is the boondock nation), a rider stopping to offer help and support is a welcome relief. The look of gratitude on the kid’s face when I pulled over was all that I needed to see, even without his immediately knowing whether I could help or not.

Fortunately, this time, I could.

Ontario doesn’t have a clue about motorcycle safety

Update here.

You don’t have to have lived in Ontario to know that it perceives itself as a province in Canada where the inhabitants believe that they are ‘speshul’. Ontario has in place legislation that provides for the impounding of a vehicle and immediate suspension of a driver’s licence if the police officer believes you to have been racing — and racing apparently includes riding your motorcycle at very low speed on the shoulder of the road while other vehicles are stopped.

Fortunately, they lost that one in court, and a huge thank you goes out to the individual that challenged the stupidity of the police officer who charged the rider.

Now in Ontario’s infinite wisdom, they see fit to present Bill 117 that would prevent anyone under 14 years of age from riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, sidecar or trike — you know, because there are so many injuries and deaths involved with children younger than 14 riding as passengers on motorcycles, sidecars and trikes in Ontario.

Oops. Apparently not.

“Bill 117 is a solution looking for a problem. I reviewed all seven Ontario Road Safety Annual Reports from 1999 to 2005 and did not find any fatalities for motorcycle passengers less than 14 years of age.

Ontario children were four times more likely to have been injured as passengers on bicycles and 262 times more likely to have been injured as passengers in passenger vehicles than to have been injured as passengers on motorcycles.” — Raynald Marchand, GM, Canada Safety Council

Provincial M.P.P. Helena Jaczek is the author of this monstrosity. You can contact her at hjaczek.mpp at liberal dot ola dot org

The Minister of Transportation is James Bradley. Contact him at jbradley.mpp at liberal dot ola dot org

For a sample letter, visit