Wednesday 30 June 2010

Happy Canada Day

flagTo all my Canadian friends, I hope you are able to enjoy Canada Day tomorrow with family and friends and perhaps get some two-wheel time in.
Personally I’m thinking a nice ride with a stop at my favourite ice cream stand followed by a BBQ steak dinner and a bottle or two of good wine will fill the bill just nicely.
However you plan to celebrate, have a great day and ride safe.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

“I was born too soon”

I rode to my dentist’s office today and when I came out into the parking lot there was an elderly lady (late-70s I’d guess) standing looking at my motorcycle.
My first thought was, uncharitably, that she had bumped into me while parking, or something similar. I really didn’t think it would be good.
In the 15 seconds or so it took me to walk to my bike she never moved, just staring at the bike. Then just as I approached and she realised I was the rider she patted the tank and said, “I always wanted one of these, but I was born too soon I guess.” She then gave me a big smile, wished me a great day, and went in for her appointment.
And it was a great day.

Cannonball Run

imageI don’t know why but I particularly like old engines. There’s something honest about  machinery built in the days when brute force ruled. Need more power? Put a bigger cast iron piston in a bigger cast iron cylinder in a bigger cast iron block. Voila – more power! Frame flex? Weld on another crossbar.
They were manly (sorry ladies) machines compared to the high-revving, thimble-size pistoned, advanced metals, plastic reinforced, carbon-fibered engines of today. I can see the crusty old mechanic now looking at examples of each, pointing to the ancient behemoth and proclaiming loudly, “Now that there’s a motor!”
Probably also has a lot to do with why I have a passion for Harleys – they still design their motorcycles around the engine as opposed to vice versa which appears to be the norm for most modern Japanese and European bikes. (The mid-70’s Norton Commando was an exception to this rule.)
Anyway whether it’s an old steamer or a hit and miss gas engine I enjoy looking at them, listening to them run, admiring the craftsmanship that put them together in those pre-robotic assembly days, and trying to absorb some of the passion of the collector who keeps them maintained and running all these decades later.  (This is, of course, much to the missus’ chagrin as she looks at an old engine and sees a boat anchor. Or would if she fished, but she doesn’t appreciate that either. So old engine and machine viewing, in its many guises, is a solo activity I’m afraid.)
So the summer fairs, tractor pulls and various other country summer events are a major draw because you can be sure that somewhere “Clem-from-down-the-road-a-ways” will be showing off his grandfather’s 1932 International Harvester along with whatever else he rescued from the back of the barn.
And then every so often a really unique event comes along for those of us who enjoy old machinery. This year it’s the Cannonball Run.
On September 10, up to 70 motorcyclists will depart Kitty Hawk North Carolina on a 16-day ride to the west coast, arriving September 26 at Santa Monica California. At least they hope to arrive since the bikes they will be riding are all pre-1916 vintage. That’s right, 100-year-old motorcycles on a 3300 mile cross country trip. Registered machines include Harley-Davidson, Excelsior, Flying Merkel, Sears, Thor, Indian, Triumph, and others never heard of outside the arcane world of the pre-historic motorcycling fraternity. And I expect there may be an ancient “character” or two among the riders as well.
That’s why I’m currently contemplating my own 2000 mile trip to see these amazing machines and their brave (foolhardy?) riders as they leave Kitty Hawk for what will certainly be the adventure of a lifetime. And if you can meet them at one of the staging points during the trip I’m sure they’d appreciate the support. In turn you will have a brush with living history and a great time surrounded by the sights and sounds of a distant motoring past.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Buying from rally gypsies – a cautionary tale

I wanted a purpose-made pair of riding sunglasses, the wrap-around kind with the foam liner to block the wind on those cool, early morning rides. But since I wear prescription lenses, the off the shelf stuff at the local dealer just wouldn’t do the job. And no opticians in town carried what I was looking for.
So when I was in Daytona in February I was glad to see Biker’s RX there, offering just what I was looking for, and at what seemed to be a reasonable price. I found a brand-name frame I liked, selected a lens type, and had a pair made based on the prescription they read from my eyeglasses. A couple of hours later my new sunglasses were ready. Unfortunately we were running late, and I didn’t really have much of an opportunity to test them out beyond a quick, “Yup, they seem okay.”
But they weren’t. After wearing them for an hour or so it became clear that there was a problem with the power of one lens. And after I got home my actual optometrist’s prescription confirmed that the one lens was not to spec. A quick email to to Dr. Dan at Biker’s RX and he readily agreed to replace that one lens to match my prescription.
Great, I thought.
Then the real problems began.
The optician they use refused to ship just a replacement lens, and instead insisted I send the sunglasses back to him so he could do the work: “im the optician that made your glasses unfortunately i can not just send you lense Du to my safty conserns i must install all lenses in our frames we would be liable if you injured  a eye if the lense wasent installed properly” (Exactly as written – honest. The attention to detail in written communications should have been my first clue.)
Even promises to have the replacement installed by my own optician wouldn’t fly with this guy, so I sent them off, but not without some trepidation. Four weeks, numerous e-mails, and $20 in shipping and handling later I finally got the sunglasses back.
Great, I thought.
Except they were worse. Back to my optician who measured both lenses and found them both to be off my prescription (which Biker’s RX had on file by that time and which was supposed to be the basis for this pair). More emails, more assurances they would be repaired to my satisfaction, and more insistence on shipping the whole lot back across the border.
As the saying goes, in for a penny… So hoping for third time lucky they were mailed back again – another $20 shipping. That was 6 weeks ago. The penultimate email was dated May 17 from “Mertyl Beach” where they were set up for the rally, assuring me my sunglasses would be processed right away. And then later (May 29, from Rolling Thunder) confirmation that my glasses were shipped back to me May 21.
They arrived last week and are now finally correct – although I did have to pay another $60 in duties and taxes to spring them from the grip of the postal service, which I should be able to get back but at the cost of more letters and aggravation.
Now had the glasses been made correctly the first time, I’m sure I would have been very happy with them, and possibly even written a “great product” posting. However I have long believed that the value in any company is best measured by the quality of their after-sales service, and in this case Biker’s RX failed badly. While I never actually got any pushback about fixing the problem, the execution was totally unacceptable. Throwing a new lens in the mail to be installed by my own optician (to address “safty conserns”) would have solved this issue in a week. Instead I didn’t have the use of my sunglasses for 3 1/2 months, have had to chase the vendor from rally to rally across the US to get updates on progress, and am out of pocket more than $100 in extra shipping and customs costs – which means the glasses were not such a deal after all.
So would I recommend Biker’s RX? Based on their after-sales service, not a chance.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Smitty’s – A tale from the road

It’s cold and raining here today, perfect conditions for sitting inside where it’s warm and dry and blogging (or wasting time as the spousal unit would say). Certainly not conditions that make me want to suit up and go for a ride.
But today I have a choice, which isn’t always the case, especially when one is on the road.
We were on our way back from the West Coast and had just dropped down into the US at International Falls. (See Welcome to the USA for a description of our worst border crossing ever.) The weather conditions were much like today (low 40’s and raining) but we had to get home as our holidays were ending and our bosses wanted us back. Which was actually a good thing – them wanting us back, that is.
The bike I was riding at the time, a CB550F, had no weather protection at all. I’d worn my rainsuit so much on the trip that it was literally worn out and offered marginal waterproofing at best by this time, and my hands were seemingly permanently stained black from the dye coming out of my gloves.  The missus was in slightly better shape, but only because she had me breaking the wind and rain for her.
By the time we reached Duluth, it was getting dark. We were both soaked and chilled to the bone, so instead of camping the plan was to book into a hotel/motel, dry out our gear (and ourselves) and eat a proper restaurant meal – a rare treat as the vacation budget was nearly exhausted. It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th hotel that we discovered there was a big conference in town and nary a room to be had. So we were forced to press on as one “No Vacancy” sign followed another… and another all along Highway 53 through Duluth, Superior, and into Wisconsin.
Then civilization ended, and for mile after mile there was nothing but the dark forest on either side of the highway and an infrequent oncoming vehicle to blind me with the headlight glare off the rain-slicked roads. By 9 PM we were getting desperate for a place to stay – any place. I was exhausted and, literally, an accident waiting to happen, but we had seen nothing for a couple of hours. Until around a bend in the road, a neon sign – Smitty’s.
Smitty’s had a restaurant, a bar, and best of all, the “No” in No Vacancy was unlit. I thought I was hallucinating.
It wasn’t until we pulled into the gravel parking lot and I did my best ever Arte Johnson imitation and toppled over, ever so slowly, because I couldn’t get my foot off the peg fast enough that I realised how cold I was. While not exactly frozen in place, we weren’t far off.
Anyway we got ourselves moving, the bike back upright, and staggered stiffly into the bar. The owner took one look at us and immediately took charge.
“You look like you could use a hot shower and a meal.”
“Here’s the key for cabin 3. The restaurant is closed but I’m open here until 11 and I’ll rustle up some food for you after you get warmed up. We’ll sort out the registration when you come back.”
After a LONG hot shower, and some relatively dry clothes (putting on dry clothes after riding wet for 12 hours is a luxury no one who hasn’t done it would truly appreciate) we were back in the bar with hot roast beef sandwiches and a couple of cold ones in front of us. Bliss.
I never did get her name, but to say she might have saved our lives that night is not too much of a stretch. I had long since passed the point of being able to ride safely, and as the next day showed, it would have been many more hours in the saddle before we reached the next place of accommodation.
So to Smitty’s, a very belated thank you for being there when we needed you.

Friday 4 June 2010

Do I look like I’d be worried about airbags?

A couple of weeks ago the missus advised that the airbag warning light was on in the warning lightcar, and I should probably get it checked out.
So I dutifully booked an appointment at the dealer and blocked off an entire day to get it there, wait for it to be repaired, and get back home. Of course with German engineering “ve can do nussing until ve checks zee compooter, yah?” Yeah, check the computer, and ring up another $109 for plugging it in and getting a readout. Whatever.
Two hours later I get the dreaded phone call. The problem has been narrowed down to somewhere behind the drivers console.  It could be anything from a $2 wire to a $2500 air bag assembly, but to find out would take 2 hours labour to take the front dash apart. And of course another 2 hours labour to put it all back together. At this point the ca-ching of the cash register is ringing in my ears and I’m trying to recalculate the monthly budget using all my fingers, balanced against the fact the car is 10 years old and worth about as much as I had in my wallet at the time.
So, figuring that we all got along just fine before airbags were invented (primarily in response to North Americans’ refusal to wear seatbelts) I declined. The service rep took exception to that, going on and on about safety, and crash protection. Just before she got to the “you vill be zorry”, I shut her up by saying, “I ride a motorcycle. Do I look like I’d be worried about airbags?”
Then I fixed the warning light by putting a small piece of black  electrician’s tape over it.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Update on “Two wheels is still two wheels”

On May 17 I posted about this terrible motorcycle-bicycle accident that took the life of the bicyclist and put the motorcyclist in the hospital with serious injuries. Sadly, the motorcyclist has now died as well, bringing the death toll from this senseless accident to two. Two young men dead. Two families grieving. Two groups of friends looking for answers.