Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday, STN Region 2 Meet & Eat - Cloudcroft NM

Two early mornings in a row had taken their toll. My body just refused to get moving early once again, despite the sure knowledge that I had another long day in front of me. I had previously decided to avoid I10 for the ride home, instead choosing to ride straight across Texas.

When I walked outside, the R1200ST was the only motorcycle in sight. I had missed everyone else. Unperturbed, I walked back over to the Western Bar and Grill for some french toast, caffeine, and a few more precious moments with my book.

It's always daunting to see the clock reading 11AM and your gps's "miles to destination" field reading 720 miles. After having lazed the morning away, I needed to get down to the business of riding. I packed the bike, removed the "do not disturb" sign on my door, and headed east.

It was a beautiful morning, sunny and crisp. I was having a huge amount of fun on that twisty road, with such a long day of straights to look forward to. About 35 miles from Cloudcroft, just as the mountains were transitioning to foothills and I was fully warmed up in the turns, a deer jumped out of the bushes and bounded down the road beside me. It was very surreal. I could see him(?) out of the corner of my eye, but my main thought was "C'mon throttle!". The R1200ST smoothly pulled away and I could once again breathe as the deer crossed the road behind me and disappeared into the brush. It took several minutes for the adrenaline to dissolve from my system but several hours for me to fully relax again.

My resolve to preserve saddle-discipline evaporated when I reached the oil fields east of Artesia on US82. For miles in each direction, oil rigs pumped up and down.

I continued to see smatterings of oil rigs well past the Texas border, where I decided to stop and finally get a "Welcome Sign" picture for Texas.

I enjoyed the mild spring temperatures as I rolled through Texas. I had hardly a care in the world, other than the strong desire to avoid the town of Brady.

Brady is a special place for me. Back in September 2004, a teenager in an old muscle car violated my right of way by turning left in front of me. I was unable to scrub enough speed and hit the rear side panel of his car, bending the forks of my Yamaha sportbike, but managing to keep the bike upright. The police officer ruled him at fault, but I was 2000 miles from home with a non-rideable motorcycle, with all the accompanying headaches you can imagine.

Ever since this incident, I have attempted (successfully) to avoid Brady, TX....the town that *bit* me.

I had a clever plan. A small FM road appeared to completely avoid the town of Brady, connecting to the main road a little to the south.

The FM was fun, winding past Lake Brady with scenic vistas of the lake and wildflowers galore. I started getting worried as I approached the main road.... there was too much street activity showing up on the GPS.

Imagine my chagrin when that little FM dropped me, not just in Brady, TX, but at the very same intersection where I had long ago tangled with the car. It was nostalgic..."Hey, there's that gas station that I parked in afterwards....and there's the hotel I spent the night in.... and the restaurant where I ate dinner!"

Arrgh. So much for my clever plan.

I picked up SH71 at Llano (Ya-No? :P ) where a riot of wildflowers lined the road.

I hadn't expected much, but the hill country road headed into Austin was really fun! The fast sweepers and even a few tight turns were truly a delight after the drone across west Texas.

A drizzle and overcast skies greeted me in the Austin area. It was getting dark as I made my way through the city's confusing network of highways. There has been a lot of construction there over the last few years, so I basically had to ignore my GPS and rely on road signs directing me back to US290.

I stopped for a much needed break and snack in Giddings, TX where I called Mom to let her know I was safe and would be home soon. The last few hours were tiring, with limited visibility as the road rolled over hilly sections in the dark. I tried to follow cars and use their superior headlights, but many of the drivers seemed just as blind as me, slowing at the crest of each hill.

I rolled into my garage around 11pm, drained after almost 1800 miles in 3 days, but refreshed from the adventure, great company, and time spent blissfully rolling down the highway on the R1200ST.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturday, STN Region 2 Meet & Eat - Cloudcroft NM

I stepped out of my room at the agreed upon time of 8AM and found the parking lot deserted except for a lone rider cleaning his windshield. He informed me that the others had already walked over to breakfast. It seemed that I had fallen in with a group of "early risers." Ick.

Entering the cafe, I found the others enjoying coffee, but waiting for me to order (or so they claimed). We discussed the day's route over breakfast, agreeing to head north through Ruidoso, ascending NM532 to see the rumored incredible view from the vista point at the top of Sierra Blanca.

We didn't leave Cloudcroft until just after 10AM, giving Rabidsnipe time to get to the hardware store to attempt to fix the mirror on his VFR, which in typical Honda fashion was trying to fall apart.

We rolled out with Rabidsnipe leading the group of six (those who wanted to group ride) and Bikerider sweeping. Cricket, Bikerider, and I were soon leapfrogging each other as we each attempted to capture the road, scenery, and other riders with our cameras.

Rolling a bonafide Hollywood stop and second to last to pull onto the main road to Ruidoso, I noticed flashing lights in my rearview mirrors. Bikerider and I never even got up to speed by the time the police cruiser passed us. I think we were both certain that it was in hot pursuit of the speeding riders leading the group. Rabidsnipe later said that he almost had a heart attack seeing flashing lights with the speedometer needle conservatively set at least ..uhh.. 15 over. He was certain that he'd gotten each member of the group a ticket.

We all sighed with relief when the police car (and the two following it) passed the leader without pausing. We were on best behavior all the way into Ruidoso, where we found an auto parts store so that Rabidsnipe could repair his broken Honda (mirror bolts had rattled out).

Next up was the much-anticipated ascent of Sierra Blanca. It was tight, dirty, and wonderful with steep switchbacks and breathtaking vistas.

Coming down the hill, we found that a tree had fallen across the road! A crew had already removed the trunk as it crossed the road, leaving only barky residue.

We left the mountains at this point, heading northeast on NM246: Endless straights punctuated with swoopy dry creekbeds. It felt reminiscent of California to me, with waving fields of wild grasses.

The wind began to pick up midway through the scenic loop. I was too worried about getting blown over to stop for many pictures and I think we all needed a break at the end of that road. I arrived at the intersection to find the other riders parked on a gravel turnout and managed to talk them into heading into Roswell. I really wanted to find a tourist trap so I could purchase a little green alien as a souvenir.

Tourist traps we certainly found. Some of the guys joined me in the pursuit of green junk, but the others stood outside in the windstorm and drank green drinks instead (Sprite?).

With the wind raging, and the afternoon grinding on, it was decided to skip part of the route and just head back to the motel. The bikes must have made a strange sight rolling down US285 leaning hard away from the wind. Some of the riders found that slowing down made the going easier. Others just wanted to get out of the storm as fast as possible. Me? Somewhere in between. I was strongly reminded of that incredibly windy day back in Sept 2004 when a Utah state trooper warned me about motorcycles getting blown off the road as he wrote me a ticket for speeding.

The group spread out when we made the turn onto US82 to Cloudcroft and thus we arrived at wildly varying times. Several riders stopped on the side of the road to change out of the mesh gear that had seemed necessary on the hot desert plains. It was obviously going to be a cold night.

After a break, we all headed over to the Western Bar and Grill to squeeze ten stinky, ornery, hungry motorcycle riders around a table meant for six. The meal was excellent, the conversation outrageous, and the waitress harried.

It being far too cold to stand outside with the bikes, we all shacked up in the motel corridor to tell fish stories and lies late into the night.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday, STN Region 2 Meet & Eat - Cloudcroft NM

"What a beautiful morning for a ride!" I murmured to the wind as I rolled through San Antonio, TX at 9AM on Friday, April 20, 2007. I was on my way to Cloudcroft, NM for a Sport-Touring.Net gathering. Normally I would just be arriving at work at this time. Instead, I had a long 760 miles ahead of me and, just at that moment, each one seemed infinitely better than anything I might have accomplished on any given work day.

I flew across Texas on the wings of my 2005 BMW R1200ST, eating the miles on I10. Most riders would find 500+ miles of straight interstate to be mind-numbing, but I had blue skies, dramatic clouds, and my XM radio to entertain me.

I left the interstate in Ft Stockton, TX and turned toward New Mexico.

US285 took me north through Pecos, TX and Loving, NM before rolling through the larger town of Carlsbad, NM. The day had warmed up, and it seemed that I hit every single red light in the city. A pair of cruiser riders struck up a conversation that lasted through several traffic lights hit side by side.

I turned west in Artesia, NM and soon passed through the desolate and dejected town of Hope.

Sixty miles from my destination, I entered low rolling foothills. The speed limit was 55 mph, but every single car I saw passed me as though I were parked. I ramped up my speed and watchfully enjoyed myself.

The last 40 miles into Cloudcroft were alone worth the 700+ grueling miles I had ridden that day. The desert fell away into real mountains! I swept and swooped around the curves, pressing hard on the bars and powering out with all the raging grunt of the R1200ST's boxer twin.

With the sun beginning to set, I dared not stop for pictures, wanting to both fully enjoy the turns and reach Cloudcroft before dark.

Finally rolling into town, the GPS directed me to the hotel and I parked at the end of a long row of sport-touring bikes. Rabidsnipe was loitering around the otherwise abandoned motorcycles. While we were exchanging greetings, a fellow rider arrived from the BBQ where the rest of the group was enjoying dinner. It was about to close, so I ordered a plate of take-out and joined the rest of the party back at the bikes.

Cricket from Oklahoma, who I've ridden with in the past, had assumed that I would be grumpy after such a long riding day and thoughtfully procured a six pack of Peach Bacardi for me. Proving him wrong, I met the other riders with all the bubbliness and cheer that I could muster, while drinking the first of the bottles.

We mingled by the bikes for several hours before agreeing to meet for breakfast in the morning.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

June Tour

I've been waffling for a while over whether to front or rear-load my June tour and appearance at the ST.N national meet (June 13 in Custer, SD).

I finally decided (and officially office-calendared) on June 11-22 off work, which means that I'll have roughly 4 days (Arkansas, Missouri, Wisconsin?) to get to Custer, SD, and then over a week to spend exploring Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and wherever else whim takes me. (yeah, the route isn't set yet).

Aaaaand, be watching the blog this weekend for my New Mexico trip. I've put in 40+ hours in 3 days at work this week trying to get some drawings out for a deadline....and I'm SOOOOO ready for some seat-time. Motorcycle seat, that is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

First Look: RKA 8.5 liter 3-point “MiniX” Tankbag

With all the luggage capacity on the R1200ST, people often ask why I need a tankbag too. My tankbag holds only items that need to be quickly and easily accessible: wallet, phone, camera, and face-shield cleaner. It’s kind of like a woman’s purse, in that it holds essentials, but inevitably gets cluttered. Stuff “expands” to fill the space allowed, so I prefer to keep my tankbag small and unobtrusive.

I’ve been getting more and more frustrated with my current tankbag. It’s a cheap Chase Harper mini strap-mount bag. I’ve been mostly satisfied, but it’s bigger than I’d like and the attachment system sucks (my tank is plastic, so I have to use strap-mount bags). Sometimes I think that tankbag does more sliding around on my bike than I do.

A few months ago I saw another R1200ST at Ming’s CafĂ©. This one had a RKA tankbag that utilized some built-in attachment points that I hadn’t even known existed. It was rigidly mounted and perfectly sized, but at $80 I hesitated and continued my research. Two weeks ago, with some extra money available and my summer riding trips fast approaching, I finally ordered one.

RKA is a small California-based motorcycle luggage company that’s been around for a long time. Being a small but very successful outfit, they have a great reputation for quality and service. A few hours after I placed my order on RKA’s website, I received an email from Richard, the “R” in RKA, letting me know that they were backordered and there would be a two week delay in shipping. With my next trip several weeks away, I was fine with that. We bantered briefly in email over the weirdness of a California phone area code and Texas address. I was left with an impression of friendliness and good customer service. If I ever need spare parts (buckles?) or bag repair, I would feel confident contacting the RKA in ways that I never would when dealing with a larger company.

And now back to the actual bag, which arrived yesterday…

From the description on RKA’s website:
7.0"W x 10.0"L x 2.5"H / 7.5"H. Main compartment, Expansion, total 525 ci. Lifetime-limited warranty. Raincovers are optional, Map holder is thick 20th Lexan material and is removable. Inside usable dimensions are 6.0" x 8.0. Attachment system and shoulder strap included, Beautiful rubberized handle, Orgabizer and key chain holder in the lid, PVC coated polyester Slip-Not bottoms and backs to all luggage. Slip Not is an anti-abrasion grip fabric, waterproof, strong and washable. All luggage is made out of a 600 Denier solution dyed Polyester urethane coated and/or 600/300 denier vinyl laminated PVC, diamond embossed material. All zippers are YKK and inserts are 60th ABS (Plastic) or polystyrene in areas where needed. All luggage is finished and lined in main compartments and major areas. a 3/8 inch foam combined onto a 200 denier coated nylon for the inside lining.

Pictures of the bag mounted on Richard’s R1200ST (from RKA’s website):

I was impressed last night when I unpacked the bag. It appears to be solidly constructed, with attractive black material and lots of reflective piping. The zipper pulls are nicely sized for use with gloved hands. The expansion zipper is neat, spiraling around in a way I haven’t seen on other tank bags. I don’t foresee using the expansion chamber very often, but it might be useful for stowing a jacket liner or other bulky item for short periods of time.

Even in the heaviest downpour, I’ve never used the included rain cover on my Chase Harper tank bag, so I chose not to order RKA’s optional rain cover ($10). RKA advertises their bags as completely lined and finished inside: “The most water-resistant product on the market today.”

I haven’t mounted it on the R1200ST yet, but you can be sure that the bag will get thoroughly tested this coming weekend on my ride to New Mexico for the Sport-Touring.Net Region 2 Meet.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I Didn’t Do It!

Wash the bike, that is. Wild West Honda/BMW did. Aren’t they nice?

I dropped the R1200ST off at the Katy, TX dealer early this morning for new brake pads and a brake system bleed. While I was there, I purchased an oil filter and some new Teknic gloves.

A few hours later, I got a call; “You have some extra wiring and plumbing under the body work, so the labor costs will be a little higher than you were originally quoted.” Sheepishly, I said that was fine.

When I came back at 5:30pm to pick up the bike, the service manager remarked, “You’re a Rider.”

“Oh?” I said, “How can you tell?”

“Well, you have a whole lot of ‘stuff’ installed, and it’s obvious the bike only gets a bath when it rains. We washed off some very ancient dead bugs.”

I gave him my standard response, “Every bug is a Badge of Honor!” before paying and heading out to the parking lot to don my dusty, bug-gut streaked riding jacket and black helmet with white bunny ears.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Evening Ride

When I left work at 6:30 tonight, I fully intended to go home, have dinner with my family, and attack the R1200ST with a hose and bucket of warm soapy water.

When I was about halfway home, I realized that the evening was just too beautiful to waste. I decided that I would gear up and head into the city for the bike night at Ming’s Cafe.

Riding out of my neighborhood, seeing the sun still relatively high in the sky and enjoying the mild evening breeze flowing over me, I somehow found myself turning west on the highway instead of east into downtown.

I raced daylight up to Waller and FM362 where I followed a fellow motorcyclist off the highway. I passed him after a few turns and settled into the business of leaning my motorcycle. It took a few turns to warm up, but I quickly settled into the wonderful feel of setting up for a curve and then accelerating smoothly out.

By the time I hit my favorite close-to-home road, FM2979, I was feeling good. I slammed down the road in 3rd gear, the ST raging out of the corners. The road was lined with yellow and orange flowers, with the occasional stray bluebonnet. The pine trees along the road were casting lengthening shadows when I turned around to do a repeat heading east, away from the setting sun.

I try not to ride backroads at night, so my fun was essentially over at this point. I debated what to do next. I was too far from Montgomery to crash the meet there and too far from the city to have time to talk to people before needing to head home again.

I idly explored east on FM1488, rolling through Magnolia, TX before heading south on 249 to Tomball. Feeling hungry, I stopped at a chain restaurant in Tomball and enjoyed a strawberry lemonade and dinner accompanied by a book that I keep in my sidecase for times like this.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made time for an after-work ride like tonight’s. I can partly blame it on my overriding (pessimistic?) feeling that there isn’t anything close to my house that is truly worth a quickie ride...but the smile that I can’t seem to wipe off my face tonight emphatically says otherwise.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

BIG Smiles

It was truly beautiful this evening...80 degrees, clearing skies with low humidity.

I got home from work around 7pm, perfect timing to finish installing the seat and bags onto the BMW and do a short shakedown ride to the TWTex bike night at PO's Burgers.

I had almost forgotten how much the R1200ST *growls*. :D

I'm happy to report that there are no immediately noticeable problems with the front end. I have an appointment to have the brakes bled and new brake pads installed at the dealer on Saturday.

Oh...and....I think....I *might* have to give the ST a bath. I was getting a lot of grief tonight over the fact that the cleanest thing on the bike was the front wheel. If you'll remember, the last time I rode it was in that huge Dallas dust storm in late February. Yeah. It's dirty.

Sleepy Kitty

Cali gave us a little scare last weekend.

He decided not to eat breakfast on Saturday, instead choosing to lounge on my bed. Happily, by dinner time he started to show interest in food again.

By Sunday night he seemed to be completely back to normal. I assume he ate something around the house that didn't agree with his stomach.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Roadside Assistance

When I got my license to drive at age 16, my parents handed me a AAA card along with the keys to the car. I vividly remember the first time I locked the keys into the car and had to wait an hour or so for the tow truck to come rescue me. A few of those experiences later and I was sold-for-life on having some kind of roadside assistance plan.

In September 2004 I found myself in Brady, TX with a broken motorcycle and no real plan. AAA (or at least the California version at that particular time) had no coverage for motorcycles, and I was roughly 2000 miles from home. Luckily, my parents lived half a day away, so Mom and Dad graciously wasted a day driving back and forth across Texas to rescue me, and then provided lodging for my Yamaha in their garage until I could drive back and retrieve it.

I was prepared in 2005. The AMA has a roadside assistance program called “Motow” for a little extra money on top of the membership fee. Happily, my mishaps in 2005 were minor or close to home and I never utilized the service. I dropped AMA membership after a year, mainly because I didn’t agree with many of their key lobbying issues (but that’s not a subject for this post).

My motorcycle roadside assistance needs were theoretically covered in 2006 by the plan provided by BMW with purchase of a new motorcycle. I am very thankful that I never needed the plan, because it covers shockingly little…

…which brings me to 2007… and a little matter of running over some lumber in the road. I was 115 miles from home. Through barest luck, my dad was around that weekend and able to drop what he was doing to drive 4 hours round trip to rescue me yet again.

But what if I’d been living on my own? What if Dad hadn’t been available? What if all my other truck-owning friends were out riding and thus unreachable?

For that matter, what if I’d been 1000 miles from home with a broken down bike? It’s happened before and it’s eminently possible that it will happen again, possibly even this summer while I’m out on one of my various tours.

As a frequent long-distance sport-tourer, motorcycle roadside assistance is something that has been on my mind many times in the past few years. I’ve done a lot of research on different plans and options. I’ve read countless discussions on various forums and mailings lists. I *think* I’ve found the best option.

KOA RVRoadhelp.

For about $80/year, you get unlimited towing to the nearest “capable service provider”. From every review I’ve read, unlimited really means unlimited. If you’re 200 miles from the nearest real town in the middle of Nevada, well, the towing is covered. No other plan (that I’ve seen at least) provides this level of service. The plan covers all your vehicles, not just the motorcycles.

It also includes a KOA Value Kard for discounted camping at KOAs. Some people may not ever use this, but it’s been something I’ve purchased pretty much every year for the past few years. I stay at KOAs often when on tour.

I’ve been putting it off, but I finally signed up this morning… so whatever happens (knock on wood) my 2007 summer touring season is covered.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


I've been incredibly busy with work lately... deadline upon deadline has meant no time to work on the ST. I even worked last weekend! So......

I skipped bike night at PO's *gasp!* to install the new front wheel tonight. The R1200ST is finally off the jack. WOOHOO!

In other news, my 2003 Chevy Silverado, purchased new in October 2002, was finally paid off this month. I got the title in the mail from the bank a few days ago. It's exciting to know that the truck is finally mine....and the extra $500+ per month will be nice too.