Harley Dirtster Project: Planning

Way back in the days of Lola the Speedmaster, my buddy Jeff told me that he wanted to convert a Harley Davidson Sportster into a dirt bike. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving not yet been bit by the off-road bug, and being the (arguably) anti-Harley guy I was, my reaction was an overwhelming, “Why the hell would you do that?” A much more seasoned rider than myself, he asked me how many Harley Dealerships were in Ohio, the United States, moreover around the world. It turns out, there are actually 40 dealerships in Ohio. While I don’t know the actual world number, it’s pretty safe to say that Harley Davidson has a massive presence all over planet. That revelation was impressive, but I still wasn’t putting two and two together.

“Think about it…” he said, “If you truly wanted to tour around the world on a motorcycle, what better bike than a Harley? They’re easy to work on, and parts (Should be) readily available.” It was a novel concept, and if nothing else, it did have the looks of all those custom scramblers I kept seeing on the internet, but the idea still needed to fester for a bit longer.

 
Years went by; I bought a Scrambler and I dipped my toe in the “adventure” scene. Riding in the dirt proved to be more exciting than I could have imagined; it opened my eyes to the possibilities of motorcycles. The Scrambler turned out to be surprisingly capable, but there’s no question that it’s still a bit lacking, especially at higher speeds.Harley Scrambler Black Dragon MotoADVR At the same time, while I have a lot of experience working on the 865 engine, unfortunately it still involves routinely poking around in the valve train. Even before I laid down 1,000 miles in one day, I had dreams of an Alaskan adventure; while routine maintenance can be planned as part of that trip, not having to stop to wrench on a bike is a lot better. The ease of maintenance and simplicity of the Harley Evolution engine is its hallmark, if nothing else. Suddenly the idea of a scrambled Harley took root.

 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast summer my buddy Jeff tagged along for Red River Scramble and then the Dragon Raid. Needless to say, some beers were involved, and under the cover of cigar smoke, there was a lot of discussion about building a bike. Jeff mentioned he had a line on used Sportster, a bike he’d previously turned wrenches on; it was merely a matter of agreeing on a price. Before I knew it, the “Dirtster” project was born.

 

Short Term Goals

Turn a Harley into a 500 pound dirt bike… seems simple enough right? In the end, the engine is the most important part of the equation, keep the torquey, push-rod, v-twin intact, spare the frame if at all possible, and upgrade the rest of the bike until it’s a proper dirt machine. This endeavor will unquestionably call for upgraded suspension; “adventure” appropriate wheels, considering the 16-inch rear rim makes no sense in the world of knobby tires; suitable handle bars, some sort of skid plate, and ideally repositioning of the pegs. A properly routed exhaust has potential to present somewhat of a challenge; however, with the frequency in which Harley pipes are replaced, I suspect someone on the aftermarket has us covered.

 
Having spent countless hours looking over suspension options for the Scrambler, I want to be certain to get the springs tuned-in right out of the gate. The scrambler has a lot of unique challenges because of its existing geometry and height. Hugo Scrambler in MudFortunately, the Sportster swing-arm is already at a negative attitude in relation to the frame, adding longer springs to the Sporty to gain that much needed rear travel should be relatively easy. On the flip-side, it will be a matter of what to do with the front. Considering the Sportster has been in its current form since about the mid-eighties, lots of folks have toyed around with the front suspension. I’m under the impression that certain dirt bike front ends are simple bolt-on affairs with the Sportster frame; albeit I’m not sure if we want to get that crazy… yet.

 

Enter Hugo Moto

I mentioned just days ago that Harley is missing something specific from their line up; it’s almost like Hugo Moto was reading my mind.Hugo Moto Turquoister In actuality, I caught wind of Hugo Moto’s Sportster kit early last year. The idea of building a Dirtster was still a bit of a pipe dream at that point, but when it came time to talk turkey, it seems that Hugo has figured out the solution to most of the challenges ahead. With the stock engine and frame intact, Hugo Moto has already sorted out how to get 7 inches of suspension travel out of the front forks (with some slick cartridge inserts), pinned down a supplier for custom long-travel rear springs, a set of 18 and 21 inch wheels, a beefy skid plate, off-road pegs, and pretty much everything else from stage one of the “to-do” list. At this point, I think it’s merely a matter of getting my hands on the hardware.

 

Long-term Goals

With the Hugo Moto “World Tour Kit” I expect the Sportster can successfully be converted to “Dirtster” over a long weekend, which will cover all the off-road basics and then some. That said, Jeff and I want to shave weight off this “hog” so it can be shamelessly loaded down for the long-haul; Hugo Moto Kitsliterally living off the bike in third world countries. Like the Scrambler, long-term the 5-inch headlight isn’t going to cut mustard; an LED replacement and/or auxiliary lights are a must, especially for venturing outside Harley’s home turf. Fenders are another topic of discussion; while Sportster “tins” are easily attained and easily modified, something less ferrous may be in order if we want to shed more “el-bees”. I’m debating if it makes the most sense to rob a high fender off a dirt bike for the front end, whilst taking a cutting wheel to the rear skirt. That said, I’d really like to find a complete plastic replacement for the rear; while plastic on a Harley may be a bit sacrilegious… lighter is faster y’all. Luggage will also present another challenge; while I’ve seen some nice Giant Loop luggage strapped over the high-pipes of the Hugo kit, Jeff and I have discussed a suitable luggage rack for the rear; something that will keep the bike narrow, but also provide good tie down points when packed for the long-ride. Fuel is also a big concern; generous fuel tanks are not something that Sportsters are known for, this donor bike is no exception. Putting more fuel on the bike is likely to be one of the greatest challenges; there are a lot of aftermarket tanks for the Sportster, unfortunately, most of those tanks assume that the rider will always be seated on the bike.

 
As crazy as it sounds, I actually think this dream is easier than “adventurizing” a Triumph Scrambler. I have a feeling that idea will be tested sooner rather than later. Now the question is… what are we going to name this bike?

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What’s a Good Motorcycle “Day Ride”?

DCIM103GOPROG0804301.I’m starting to feel like a good day’s ride is ten miles and not two feet further. While things have been a shade easier, Mother Nature really hasn’t let up since my recent recount of winter weather. As painful as it is now, it’s merely a matter of time before a series of 50°F days finally arrive here in the Midwest. As such, I’m getting anxious to put together a few new adventures, including a covered bridge route in northern Kentucky.  Considering that route planning has been on my mind as of late, I figured it’s a good time to ask the question, what’s makes for a good “Day Ride”?

US129 Gravity Cavity MotoADVRI wrote in detail a few months back, describing “The Perfect Ride”, but in this case, I’m more interested in how far, and what kind of riding do you consider for “a day ride”. While I have lofty goals for 2018, including four rallies while also “building” a very special adventure bike (stay tuned), I also want to focus more on ride reports this year. I want to continue to tell stories about the struggles of everyday motorcycling, drop notes about the gear and equipment I like to use, but I also want to show the readers where my favorite out-of-the-way roads lead. That of course led me back to the same question, how far does the readership like to go in a day?

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I’m becoming the worst judge of other people’s taste. I fear my fixation with time in the saddle has warped my impression of how much riding my fellow motorcyclists enjoy. Despite my early feelings that riders are somewhat “cliquish”, or finding many motorcycle topics polarizing, after making so many new acquaintances last year, I’ve begun to realize that tastes in motorcycling vary in as many degrees as there are motorcyclists. That’s a good thing, it’s unfortunate that Hollywood and modern “marketing” has galvanized the images of the leather-clad chopper rider and the Starbucks sipping Beemer owner.

The Hub Robbinsville NC MotoADVRThis year I want to visit Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and explore more of Tennessee and Kentucky. At the Triumph Rally, the day’s route is typically determined by the best road or the best place to go find lunch. In my travels this year, I’m hoping to land in a few backcountry Mom & Pop stores and hear stories from the locals. Hopefully a notebook and pile of photos with keep my memory fresh so I can somehow put words to all the miles and smiles. But, before we get to those adventures, I want to hear from you. Triumph Scrambler Battery Dead MotoADVRHow far is a good day ride? How many hours in the saddle is “just right”? Is it about the roads, or is it about the stops along the way? Which is a better story, the awesome things you saw, or the unscheduled road-side repair you had to make on the way? Is it the photos, the smells of the countryside, the flavor of local food, or the good company that joins you on the journey? Exactly what do you look for in a “day ride”?

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What do you want from Harley-Davidson?

Early this week I caught this news snippet regarding Harley-Davidson’s announcement about the closure of the Kansas City manufacturing plant. Harley Davidson Museum MotoADVRThat news, while tragic, is unfortunately not particularly surprising after so many recent articles have been written about declining sales from the Motor-Company. Similar to when Polaris shuttered Victory’s doors, social media platforms are on the verge of a full-blown meltdown from the sheer volume of comments on the subject. Many folks see the recent news as chickens coming home to roost, others echo the sentiments that millennials don’t understand the value of the American motorcycle, while others suggest it’s merely the ebb and flow of the market. I’m of course not innocent in all this; I’m sucked into the Harley discussion the same as the next “biker”. I admit, I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I can’t help but offer my two cents. Thus, I ask the question, what do we want from Harley-Davidson?

When I first started “shopping” for a new motorcycle, I won’t say that I eliminated Harley-Davidson from the search, but it quickly became evident that there were other options available. Price was a large factor, but I admit, I was also looking for something “different” than what a lot of other motorcyclists were riding. As an opinionated, “rebellious”, new rider that knew everything, I once thought I needed to defend this “anti-Harley” stance, yet in recent days, I’ve actually come to terms with reality, and recognize what Harley has to offer, even if, perhaps, they have not.

After rubbing elbows with a wider, more obscure portion of the motorcycling community, Harley Davidson Roadster MotoADVRI have begun to appreciate that each motorcycle is a tool, and in turn different tools have different jobs. Despite the polarizing nature of the “Bar & Shield” label, I believe that cruisers, and more specifically, Harley-Davidson has its place in the market. That said, current market trends seem to suggest that Harley is either not delivering what new buyers want, or has perhaps over saturated the market. I’ll admit, I’m no economist, for all I know this news is simply the first of many sad stories for all the manufacturers as the motorcycle market is contracting as a result of stagnant wages and disinterested buyers. That said, I feel it’s worth throwing the “Home Team” a bone and at least telling Harley-Davidson what we’re looking for from their brand.

Some will say they want to see Harley-Davidson launch a sport-naked (despite that whole Buell thing), design a new engine, and in a resounding voice, ditch all the excess steel. Whereas I would applaud such an effort, Harley Davidson Evolution Engine MotoADVRI actually think Harley has the all the tools, and the DNA to deliver an adversely different product, while only making minor changes. While dual overhead cams, liquid cooling, and over-square engine architecture are often thrown in the face of the low horsepower “Harley crowd”, I personally think that many dismiss the convenience of maintenance simplicity offered by the modern Harley engine. As I found myself poking around in the Scrambler’s valve train on three occasions in a year’s time, let me tell you, the concept of self-adjusting hydraulic tappets starts to sound a pretty appealing; at least for the daily commuter. Beyond maintenance and engine simplicity, and despite the unending jokes of American V-twins “marking their territory”, I consider the modern Harley engine to be relatively reliable. There is no question, modern bikes of all makes have fallen prey to a myriad of recalls in recent years, but where the power plant is concerned, I suspect and Evo engine will treat you right. Look, I don’t want this to sound like a cheerleading bit for Harley-Davidson, I merely want to set the stage for the changes I want to see going forward. Thus, without further ado…

 

Diversity…

No seriously, I want to see real diversity. When I first started seriously looking at buying a motorcycle, Harley-Davidson sold five motorcycles; the Sportster, the Dyna, the Softail, the Electra Glide, and depending on who you ask, the V-Rod. With the advent of the XG series “Street” models, that expanded to six, only to be rescinded to four with the retirement of both the V-Rod and the Dyna. Late last year Harley was pushing the #FreedomMachine “What’s In the Box” campaign. 2018 Harley Davidson Fat Bob MotoADVRI was really excited, with the promise of releasing 100 new models over the next 10 years and considering that the Milwaukee 8 was already “a thing”, I assumed Harley had finally revamped the Evolution engine and we were finally going to see a new Sporty. Instead, we received EIGHT Softail models… with a ninth that followed shortly thereafter. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the new Softail models, especially the new Fat Bob, but nine flavors of essentially the same bike is downright ridiculous. In a world where a new Harley is viewed as a “blank canvas” for customization; were exhaust, bars, and leather seats are throw-away items that are expected to be replaced at the parts counter, I fail to understand the need for nine iterations of the same chassis straight from the factory. The Softail Slim, Lowrider, and Street Bob are now essentially the same bike with marginal differences. I full well understand that engineering takes time, and that there’s a flavor of motorcycle for every motorcyclist, but considering the availability of OEM and aftermarket parts for Harley, why do we need to slice the pie so thin?

 

Redefine “Heritage”

In recent years I feel like Harley-Davidson advertising is borderline mocking itself. “Feel the Freedom”, while not a true Harley tagline, seems like the quintessential Harley advertisement. Harley Davidson 1937 Flathead MotoADVRMeanwhile, “Freedom Machine”, “Resistance is Futile”, “Don’t Wannabe”, and “Roll Your Own” are actual H-D slogans. A while back I caught this satirical bit about the MoCo; “Heritage” and “Tradition” are used excessively to mock the brand. From the 90’s up until very recently, marketing has successfully lifted Harley to the powerhouse it is today; essentially selling “toys” to droves of consumers. I do not begrudge Harley-Davidson their success (nor the customers who love their motorcycles); I do however think they have another card in their hand to play. Here in America, there was a point in time where Harley was synonymous with rugged machines and equally self-reliant, adventurous customers. Harley Davidson Shed MotoADVROver the holiday break I finally caught “Harley and the Davidsons”; while fictional, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic about the competitive and “independent” beginnings of motorcycling in this country. I think the Motor-Company needs to leverage that idea to market and sell a bike that is properly suited more toward those interests as “Adventure” seems to be the portion of the motorcycle market that has expanded in recent years. The Milwaukee V-twins sold today are still easy to maintain, but the overall structure of the bike is a little less inviting when the pavement becomes less than ideal. I believe Harley has the tools to remedy this situation, with merely subtle changes.

 

Build a Standard

In recent years, Harley has edged closer and closer to selling a neutral seating position “standard” motorcycle. The new Roadster, which I’ve discussed at length, and the new Street Rod are welcome steps in that direction, but both seem to lack full commitment. Harley Davidson Street Rod MotoADVRBe it poor positioning of controls, or just poorly executed rider triangle, both bikes are on the verge of offering riders an alternative to the typical laid-back Harley ergos, but fall just short. Per my previous comments about “minor tweaks”, the Sportster frame with minimal “massaging” could easily give birth to a factory standard, if only the auxiliary parts would follow suit. With regard to the Roadster, I mentioned this directly to the dealer when they were pushing the sale; ultimately I simply think it’s bad business to sell a bike to someone and immediately turn around and charge them for extra parts to “finish” what the brand started. While I understand each rider’s comfort and stature are different, at 5’10”, 185, I view myself as the “Average Joe”, and I’m unquestionably not the first to comment on the “odd” ergonomics of both of the before mentioned models.

 

What I’m trying to say is… I want a Harley Scrambler

Harley has heritage in spades; bring back that dirt legacy to the showroom floor. Way back when (…way back), motorcycles were once the only means of transportation for some folks. Harley Scrambler MotoADVRNeedless to say, a lot of dirt roads were involved, which I suspect probably has a few things to do with the continuation of modern hill climb and dirt track racing. Despite that rich history, Harley really doesn’t sell a dirt worthy motorcycle. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect the Milwaukee marque to up and build a modern dirt bike with twelve inches of suspension travel; nor do I expect them to throw their hat into the ring with a large displacement Adventure bike; especially considering BMW’s level of wiz-bang-ery. No, not at all; but in an era where virtually every manufacturer is selling a factory scrambler, I think Harley has the tools to beat them at their own game, as the original “retro” and the most rugged dirt machine.

 

2016 Harley Davidson Road Glide MotoADVRThis may be a pipe dream. This may be the musings of a millennial without a clue. However I still say it’s worth a shot. I don’t want Harley to stop selling the Heritage Softail, the Road Glide, or cruisers in general. I don’t want the Motor Company reduce its quality and emphasis on fit and finish. I do however want the strongest American Motorcycle brand to continue to produce motorcycles. I especially want them to sell motorcycles that I want to own, not when I’m 50, a motorcycle I want to own right now.

The future is obviously uncertain, and this is only one man’s opinion. So…

What do you want see from Harley-Davidson?

 

 

 

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Ride Every Day: Reflections On 180 Days in the Saddle

Tuesday, July 25th, 10:46 PM

After hours of farting around in the headlight bowl, I successfully spliced over a burnt connection and Rosie the Scrambler fired to life. Having sat out the previous day, the riding streak was reborn.

Wednesday, July 26th, 7:37 AM

Day 2: The morning commute.

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The Challenge

For newcomers to the blog, early last year we caught an unseasonable break in the weather in early February which led to an impressive number of winter riding days. That streak of riding gave birth to the suspicion that I may indeed be able to ride a motorcycle for 365 consecutive days in Dayton, Ohio. Following similar rules that Blaine Paulus Jr. set for himself, I ride a motorcycle for 10 miles or more each day. Having successfully patched the bike back together following a “minor” electrical hiccup on July 23rd, I saw no reason to back down from the challenge in the heart of riding season, thus “I got back on the horse.” In the back of my mind, I still assumed life or other maintenance frustrations would intervene long before December, nonetheless, “Ride 365” was added to the Moto Bucket List.

 

Saturday, January 6th, 9:03 AM

Day 166: I pull in the clutch, close my eyes, and bite my lip as I press and hold the starter button. The engine cranks and cranks for what feels like an eternity.
“Is this the day… is this the day the bike doesn’t start?” I think to myself…

 

Greatest Fears

As Thanksgiving gave way to Christmas, I knew the brutal winter months were upon me. In recent years I’ve been pretty successful riding deep into December on both the Speedmaster and the Scrambler. Christmas Day Snow Triumph Scrambler MotoADVRI’ve even rode on New Year’s Day a few times, but there’s almost always a two week stretch shortly thereafter that is absolutely bitter. While not the worst I’ve seen since getting my endorsement, Old Man Winter still managed to dump a good dusting of snow on us in early December, and then a good two to three inches right before Christmas. The Christmas snow was also followed by a deep freeze that lasted well into the new year; it was teens for days, with many nights below zero.

When this crazy idea was first hatched, riding in the snow itself was probably my greatest fear. DCIM101GOPROG0129920.Right around Christmas I took a ride around the neighborhood in some excessively sub-freezing temperatures. With a good dusting of snow in the intersection, I realized the tires had more traction than I expected. It was not plentiful, that is for certain, but I would equate it to riding in mud, without the “sinking” sensation. As time went on, my fear of the snow conceded to fear of killing the battery or worse the starter. Each weather cycle seemed to bring a dusting of snow, some flurries, and then a hard freeze into the single digits for several days. If memory serves, the temperature didn’t reach freezing from December 26th until something like January 10th. I full well recognize that folks in Michigan and Minnesota are probably laughing at that comment, but that’s somewhat of an oddity in Southern Ohio. It may freeze, it may well be ten below zero, but that trend seldom lasts for more than two or three days. By the first couple days in January, I was really concerned that the hard starts would eventually overtax the bike.

Beyond truncating the life of the starter, I was also apprehensive about the corrosive effects of the salt. December 31s Triumph Scrambler Snow MotoADVRMany folks have echoed those concerns on Instagram, to which I’ve replied “Fortunately I have a protective coating of dirt!” While that is true, there’s only so much mud on the bike after it gets rinsed off in the rain, and even while typing this, I am indeed concerned about the health of the chain and the fasteners. The chain, while vital, can be replaced, and the paint can washed; unfortunately only time will tell how the fasteners “weather the storm”.

 

Saturday, January 6th, 9:03 AM

Day 166 continued: After the engine turned over for about the fifth time, I heard a “spud”. It turned over at least two more times, “spud-spud”, and finally fired to life. Turning up the heated grips, I went back inside to put on my gear while the engine warmed up. Zero Degrees Triumph Scrambler MotoADVRCarefully backing out of the snow covered driveway, I headed down the street to one of the neighborhood churches. One of the local police officers was actually sitting in the parking lot next door. As I pulled up in front of the digital billboard, I noticed the officer craning his head around to look at me. I’m not sure if he was curious who was parking in his blind spot or trying to confirm he just saw a motorcycle. I stepped off the bike to snap the obligatory photo of the current temperature. Zero degrees, a new personal record.

 

Going Toe-to-Toe with Old Man Winter

After pushing the limit last winter, I discovered traditional hand guards, heated gloves, Hand Mitts 1 MotoADVRand even the old rubber glove “trick” wasn’t enough to keep the feeling in your fingers for more than a few moments when riding in single-digit temperatures. Fortunately, this December I got my hands on a couple sets of riding “mitts”. I’ve suggested in the past that a set of “Hippo Hands” might be mandatory equipment for riding year-round; I will not only confirm that suspicion has proved to be true, but I also have no idea why I didn’t try it sooner.

While that lazy start on January 6th made me a bit nervous, it actually wasn’t the worst. On New Year’s Day the air temperature was hovering in the low single-digits; the bike really did crank for what seemed like forever before it finally started. I texted a buddy about my concerns with the cold starts killing my starter.Kats Sump Heater MotoADVR He told me I should put a heating pad on the engine, or perhaps buy a sump heater. I couldn’t believe that idea never occurred to me; way back in high school I can remember someone telling me that northerners actually plug their cars in so they will start. At the time that seemed like the craziest thing. I’m here to tell you, when it’s below 20°F, your bike is unhappy, and it does not want to start. After putting the engine on a sump heater for about half an hour, she cranks twice and fires; life is good.

Miami River Frozen MotoADVR

That fine zero-degree morning I wasn’t in a hurry so I actually went down to the river to take a few photos. The river access road was completely covered in snow. To make matters worse, the snow was also packed down from car traffic. While not the first time, that morning was one of my best lessons on riding through snow; when it’s hard packed, you’re riding on it, and the slightest imbalance can cause a tire to “break loose”. The rear tire spun up quite a few times on the way down to the low damn. Short of idling, it took a lot of finesse to hold the throttle light enough to prevent wheel spin. My advice: embrace the fishtail.

Frosty Visor MotoADVR

Approaching the parking lot a little further down, I was surprised to find the Great Miami River completely frozen. I’ve seen it before, but it’s probably been more than a decade since it’s been frozen solid in that spot. After snapping a few photos I flipped down my visor to discover that it was frosting up, rather significantly. At zero, there’s apparently no avoiding it, even with a double pane shield. I suspect that “cracking” the visor to let in more air actually expedited the frost. It’s apparent that if I want to extend my winter rides beyond ten miles under similar conditions, I’m going to have to invest in a heated visor.

Around the 11th of January we finally received a reprieve; DCIM100GOPROG0050526.the temperatures came out of the deep freeze as a heavy storm front came through and dumped some significant rain on the Midwest. Well above freezing, I naturally rode to work, despite the rain. The run-off on the commute home was pretty substantial, but it’s what happened in the following day that was more concerning. After the bike spent most of the day in the rain, the temperatures again plummeted back below freezing. Stepping out to warm up the bike the next morning, I struggled to push the bike over to the door so I could plug in the sump heater. All that wonderful rain water had successfully frozen the brake levers on both the front and rear. Take my word for it, rubbing alcohol is a much better de-icer than WD-40.

 

Monday, January 15th, 6:09 PM

Day 175: It snowed most of the day. While not the most accumulation we’d seen this winter, it was at least a couple inches. When I decided I was riding through the winter, I knew there would come a day where I would be riding on a completely covered roadway. While still at the office, I suspect this was that day. To my surprise, when I got home it was evident that the road crews had done a pretty good job of getting things cleared up. At only twenty-something outside, I fired up the bike and got dressed for battle. While out on one of my 10 mile loops, I passed a completely snow covered side street. It was time to test the limits of the Scrambler.

 

 

Facing Fears

I’ve never really taken notice of the little “dip” in that side street. It’s amazing what a little elevation will do to reduce traction. Somewhere under that snow was a layer of frozen rain, probably sitting on top of a hard packed layer of snow from the last storm we had. While it’s obvious I’m crawling in the video, the rear wheel never “caught” the whole way up that tiny hill, it was one continuous fishtail.

Miami River Sunset Snow MotoADVRIn the end, something I was convinced would be hair raising two years ago, actually turned out to be a lot of fun. I’m sure riding down the highway, white-knuckled in a snow storm is not something I’m going to enjoy, but a little snow riding here and there hasn’t been too bad. I’m pretty confident that last year’s off-road riding made this possible. I’m hopeful that “snow riding” will translate into more confident dirt riding this year. There’s also no question, I would not have been able to ride over that snow on street tires; knobbies for the winter was definitely the way to go. Which makes me wonder, what would studded tires be like?

 

The Road Ahead

Looking back through the photos, I barely recognize summer. It’s been cold, dark, and “salty-grey” for what seems like forever. In reality I rode to Kentucky in November to see Grandma; the leaves had barely fallen off the trees at that point. I suppose that just goes to show how “sunlight starvation” can get to you.
DCIM100GOPROG0040880.Tuesday was day 183, the “halfway point”. The days are getting longer and the temperatures, at least for now, appear to be trending up. That said, it’s still early; flurries are falling outside as I type this, and February could easily dump a foot of snow on us. I expect the weather will start to warm up, marginally, but I’m still anxious about keeping the bike running. Right now I’m staring down a new chain and a new rear tire, meanwhile I’m still working toward having the bike ready to “rallycome March. Between weather, work, and my mechanic skills, 182 more days is still a long way off. Despite standing in the shadow of a mountain, I’m still proud to have made it 180 straight days, especially through the heart of January. Hopefully February delivers an early birthday present again this year.

 

 

 

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Auxier Ridge Trail: Red River Gorge

While this is not a motorcycle adventure, considering the time I’ve spend there, I can’t help but feel compelled to share the awesome natural beauty of eastern Kentucky. Auxier Ridge Trail Sign MotoADVROver the Christmas-New Year holiday, I caught a brief respite of remotely warm weather, so I snuck in my 10 mile ride around the neighborhood at dawn and then booked it down to the gorge in the Jeep. I had this hike planned as a motorcycle adventure way back in the fall, but when my Shepherd fell ill, I had no choice but to delay. With morning temperatures starting in the upper teens, it was forecast to reach the freezing point in the gorge, while never reaching the mid-twenties in Dayton. Photos of Auxier ridge have so often caught my attention on Instagram, I had to see it for myself.

Parking the Jeep at the end of Tunnel Ridge road, I pulled on another sweatshirt, a neck gaiter, and grabbed my backpack for a 4 mile, round-trip hike out to Courthouse Rock and back. Auxier Ridge Rolling Cliffs MotoADVRStepping out onto the trail, the fire damage from recent years was ever so present. From photos I’ve taken from down on KY-77, I was aware that fire had recently taken down large sections of the forest around Nada tunnel, but until writing this, I had no idea it had destroyed nearly 3,000 acres. While unquestionably unfortunate for the local ecosystem, the 2010 fire cleared large sections of foliage that has in turn revealed majestic vistas of the surrounding cliffs, rock shelters, and sandstone monoliths.

When I set out on my hike, my goal was to see Haystack Rock, and the Wizard’s Backbone. From satellite photos, the prominence of Auxier Ridge is unmistakable, but the ground level photos are extraordinary. Raven Rock MotoADVRFinally reaching the inner depths of the trail, I was inexplicably drawn to a singular peak off in the distance to the east. Taking a side path off the main trail, I realized I was looking at the backside of Raven Rock. I’ve often been caught by surprise by a brief glimpse of the sheer face of Raven Rock peeking out between the trees along KY-77, seeing it at elevation is equally impressive. Having seen it from that distance, I’m now laying plans for a more intimate view on a future visit.

Breaking through the trees on the west side the ridge, Double Arch slowly began to reveal itself as I approached an opening around Haystack Rock. Double Arch Ridge MotoADVRThe unobstructed 180 degree view near Haystack rock is one of the best I’ve seen in the gorge. While I absolutely love the vista from atop Half Moon Rock, Double Arch in the distance, dotted with splashes of evergreen, pushing up from the gray, leafless, tree canopy, makes Auxier Ridge a solid competitor.

Having scrambled around the cliffs at my Grandmother’s house, hiking and climbing around the gorge has always been somewhat of a test of wits against the fear of heights. Auxier Ridge Wizards Backbone MotoADVRWhile I don’t normally feel the perilous “falling” sensation in the pit of my stomach at elevation, I admit peering over the edge at Haystack Rock was a stark reminder of mortality. Conversely, shuffling along the rolling edge of Wizards Backbone, it was a much different experience; it felt more like an amphitheater hidden of the gorge, than a menacing fall hazard. While I had different lunch plans, some cold cut sandwiches and a six-pack of Ale-8 would make for a fantastic summer picnic on the western slopes of the Wizards Backbone.

Looking back east across the ridgeline, I noticed the gravel roadway in the distance. Tarr Ridge KY-613 MotoADVRTurning from gravel to asphalt just before a sharp bend in the road, I recognized it as KY-613 from my first off-road adventure in the gorge. I never noticed how prominent the Tarr Ridge cliff lines were from the ground; again, a testament to Auxier Ridge trail, but more so visiting the gorge during the winter months.

Finding my way back into the trees, I stumbled upon a series of staircases lagged into the sandstone rocks. Auxier Ridge Courthouse Rock Stairs MotoADVRIn the distance Courthouse rock stood alone, surrounded by boulders, rock shelters, and tenacious pine trees. Treading down something like four flights of stairs, I made my way to the base of Courthouse Rock, in search of the climbing route along the east side of the cliff. As I suspected, there was no way I was going to scale the “gully” along the side of the cliff solo. While I suspect it is highly doable, the thought of re-enacting “127 hours” wasn’t leaving my imagination. At that point, it seemed like a good time to head back up the stairs and enjoy my gas station lunch, and then finally backtracking to the trailhead.

 

Once back to the Jeep in the parking lot, I had about an hour to kill before I needed to head home to beat the impending snow. Considering my locale, I figured it was worth a try to attempt to steal an aerial photo of Nada Tunnel. Tracing along the end of Tunnel Ridge Road, I glanced at the GPS on my phone, to see if I was near the ridge that runs along the north face of KY-77, I looked over to find a sparsely traveled trail. Kentucky Highway 77 Nada Tunnel MotoADVRPushing through some pervasive rose bushes and fallen trees from the 2010 fire, I finally made my way out onto the point to snag a photo of 77 bending along the cliff faces. Unable to make out the mouth of the tunnel through the trees, I waited for a moment to hear a car pass by, that way I could follow the car to the tunnel. Despite the cold weather, the wait wasn’t long before a van came along. I snapped photo of what little I could make out of the tunnel, just as I noticed a hand emerge from the driver’s side window as the van pilot took the obligatory photo of the icicles lining the opening of the tunnel; only to find themselves momentarily stuck on the ice. In a really bizarre coincidence, it turns out I actually knew the driver of the before mentioned van; in this case, the roadside photo proved to be much better than the aerial view. Its days like this one, I wish I had a drone; maybe next time.

 

With the alarm going off on my phone, I trekked my way back through the brush to the Jeep and headed home. Auxier Ridge was everything I hoped it would be; majestic views, winter wildlife, and a quiet walk in the woods. A six hour drive for five hours of hiking in solitude, time well spent. Photos simply don’t do the gorge justice; I hope that yet another preview persuades more folks to visit this part of the Bluegrass State.

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A Letter to the AMA: What is the Cost of Motorcycling?

A couple days ago a buddy of mine shared an article on a Triumph message board from American Motorcyclist magazine written by Scot Harden, entitled “Advocating For Motorcycling’s Future”. The article really struck a chord with me, and I highly recommend you take the time to read it. Over the course of many paragraphs Harden talks about not only the waning popularity of motorcycles, but provides a bulleted list of actions that we, as motorcyclists, should take part in as a way to bolster the future of the sport.

Beyond sharing the article, my buddy also asked what we thought about the list of ideas to “save the sport”, and what other actions we might suggest. Considering how passionate I am about motorcycles, it goes without saying I had a thought or two. I personally think Scot Harden is dead-on with his proposal, and I full well intend to do each of the ten things he suggested; some of which I have done already and will certainly do again. That said, I do think that are a few key problems with respect to motorcycles that the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) would be wise to address. After reading my less than eloquent analysis of the motorcycle market, a different friend suggested that I actually type it up and send it off to the AMA. At first I figured it was just more of my senseless banter, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Thus, I stayed up late last evening, corrected internet shorthand and formed a few remotely complete sentences, and finally e-mailed my thoughts off to the AMA. Considering it may find its way into the circular file post-haste, I have decided to post it here on the blog, for the enjoyment or disdain of the masses. By the way, please feel free to make use of the comment section below.

Dear American Motorcyclist Magazine,

With regard to your recent article, “Advocating For Motorcycling’s Future”, I would like to start by saying I passionately agree with all ten of Scot Harden’s points. I would also like to take it further by saying that I personally think that cost is actually the greatest barrier for most newcomers. A new (reputable) “entry level” motorcycle is going to set a buyer back about what, $4,000 or more? That problem, combined with “cultural stigma”, and urban legends surrounding motorcycle safety, makes the “cost” too great for most people to cross the threshold into the sport. Walking into a dealership for the first time, prospective first-time buyers are rolling the proverbial dice when dealing with their first motorcycle sales person. Unfortunately I fear all too many will become acquainted with the moto-equivalent of a used car salesmen that in all likelihood lacks a valid motorcycle endorsement. Another likely scenario is that the would-be first-time buyer perhaps encounters the salty entrenched veteran that just needs to make the end of month sales quota; neither of which do I suspect will properly size up the buyer and get them on the correct machine for their size, budget, and skill level. Being turned off by the over-commercialized “biker image” and sleazy salesmen is the first hurdle, but unfortunately it doesn’t end there.

Conventional “wisdom” says that motorcycles are dangerous; worse still they are primarily and openly accepted as toys in the United States. Which leads me back to cost; why invest in a dangerous toy that I can seldom ride year-round? The industry needs to focus on lower costs, disputing “conventional wisdom”, and expounding on the advantages of owning a motorcycle. In recent months I’ve become nearly dependent on my motorcycle; looking back at my “ride calendar”, I rode 334 days in 2017. I live in Dayton, Ohio, not exactly the frozen tundra of central Michigan, but a far cry from Daytona Beach. Locally, I recognize that number may appear a bit “extreme”, at least among most casual enthusiasts. However, I’m here to tell you, I suspect there was snow on the ground for no more than 30 of those days. Despite the lack of “filtering” laws, I also get to work faster on the bike than I do in the car. A motorcycle simply gets through traffic faster, even without the ability to split lanes or filter to the front of traffic signals. I also don’t stress about finding parking most of the time, and beyond physically arriving sooner, I also believe that the commute “feels” shorter, even if the actual elapsed time is only marginally different. I’m sure all motorcyclists will agree, you’re more engaged while riding a motorcycle than you are while driving an automobile. Motorcycles are also more fuel efficient, and arguably better for the environment than cars. Why should I drive solo to work each day in a 6 passenger SUV, when I could feasibly take a single occupant Motorcycle; which likely gets double the gas mileage? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a green peace warrior, and I full well understand this question is rhetorical considering our culture is so enamored with comfort, supersized value meals, and bloated four-wheel-drive station wagons. The point is that these are advantages to motorcycles that need to be marketed; right along with all the “roll your own”, “freedom machine”, and “true adventure” slogans.

Admittedly, I am not overly familiar with exactly what the AMA does (outside of sanctioned sporting events), nor why I should be interested in becoming a member. I will say that I am somewhat familiar with the AMA’s lobbyist reputation, right or wrong, and I regret that it is not exactly in alignment with my personal views on motorcycling. However, in direct response to Scot Harden’s piece, we as motorcyclists should indeed do those 10 things, however I believe there are 3 things that the AMA, in turn, needs to support and promote.

1. The AMA needs to be funding, promoting, and/or conducting honest research on motorcycle crashes to combat the belief that motorcycles are overwhelmingly dangerous. The “Hurt Report” is laughably outdated, meanwhile the current National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics are all but completely inconclusive. Currently we have little to no useful information regarding the cause, conditions, nor the rider’s safety gear and experience level following a crash. Moreover, judging accident mortality rates based on miles traveled is ridiculous given the limited sample size of motorcycles as they are so vastly outnumbered by all other motor vehicles. On the same note, the endorsed rider to licensed motorcycle ratio is misleading considering the number of endorsed motorcyclists that don’t presently own a motorcycle, meanwhile a great number of motorcyclists have a virtual garage full of tagged motorbikes going nowhere. If we want to make an argument that experience is a determining factor in rider mortality, then so be it, but it needs to be quantified. I’ll also argue that suggesting motorcycles are “ex-percent more dangerous than cars” by the number of fatalities versus miles traveled annually is a farce when you compare that to pedestrian fatalities. More pedestrians were killed in 2015 than motorcyclists, over 5,300, not to mention the 818 bicyclists; let’s attempt to look at those numbers through the prism of miles traveled. Sounds kind of silly doesn’t it? As motorcyclists we shouldn’t stand for this reputation; we must combat it with facts. Meanwhile, asking the questions, why are upwards of 25% of motorcyclists killed riding without an endorsement or with a blood alcohol level over 0.08%? Why do we sit quiet and accept that these “outlaws” are skewing the statistics?

2. Taking a respite from lobbying the repeal of helmet laws, the AMA should be championing causes that provide advantages to motorcyclists, such as motorcycle exclusive parking, “dead red” laws, lane “filtering” (stopped traffic only), and potentially lane “splitting” (In Ohio I suggest it be legal for motorcycles to pass between cars when, and only when, traffic is moving under 25 mph). I will go further to say that the AMA should take action to fight “distracted driving”. I admit, I do not know how to legislate ignorance and stupidity out of existence. However, if there are technological or legislative measures that can be taken to keep people’s hands on the wheel and eyes on road, that’s a more critical issue than me “feeling the freedom” in my hair”; despite my opposition of mandatory helmet laws.

3. While the vast majority of the burden falls on us, the motorcycle masses, the AMA would be wise to support and promote media that explains that riding a motorcycle can be affordable. In 2016 I sold my “new bike” for a similar, used, Triumph that I will use as an example. I will also admit, I do not consider a $6,000 used motorcycle to be “cheap”, especially by the younger generation; however that is sadly considered “reasonable” by motorcycle standards. I recently went back through my receipts from day one of purchasing my Triumph; adding up the costs of oil, filters, tires, light bulbs, motorcycle jack, wrenches, feeler gauges, gaskets, and all the other incidentals except gasoline. Doing all my own maintenance, and covering about 28,000 miles in the first 12 months (July 2016 to July 2017), I spent right around $2,000 on maintenance parts and tools in the first year of ownership. That number breaks down to about $167 a month and less than $0.08 per mile. Converted to a more reasonable annual mileage of about 6,000 miles, that comes to about $430 annually, or $36 per month. In my opinion, that’s a big selling point for motorcycles; if you overcome the “No replacement for displacement” disease, motorcycles are actually quite affordable. Yes, you can buy a “beater” $1,000 car, and likely operate it cheaper than a motorcycle. However, even riding like an absolute maniac, I suspect that the average American has a car payment, well in excess of $170 a month, let alone $35. If you have a car with a heavy payment, yes you should drive it and, by God, enjoy it. Meanwhile, if you have a bike with a payment, and its primary job is occupying floor space in your garage, you’re flushing your money down the toilet. My point is that the prospective buyer has a good shot at buying a reliable, affordable, used bike with cash, and ultimately saving a boat load of money in the long run. I’ll gladly claim that financing $4,400 on a new Honda Rebel , and paying cash on a $500 “Beater” car still makes more economical sense in Dayton than financing most used cars. The bike manufacturers aren’t necessarily going to get a whole lot of help out of this formula, however we’re talking about getting millennial butts in saddles here. Bike number two will come along soon enough; we need to get them on bike number one before it’s too late.

The motorcycle industry image is typically a “pretty” motorcycle with a sticker price in excess of $12,000. While the bulk of those advertisements are heavyweight cruisers, even the average “adventure bike” costs significantly more, while sadly spending more time at Starbucks and in the garage than it does on the road, let alone the trail. That’s the problem; the average millennial gets a lot more bang for buck from a cell phone, tablet, or just hiking in the local state park than they get from a motorcycle. That image needs to change; along with the associated costs and piss-poor dealer customer service. Meanwhile, as Scot suggested, we motorcyclists should indeed act as ambassadors for our sport; yet we must also combat a misinformed society that is utterly convinced motorcycles are “death machines”. People have successfully said it long enough and loud it enough they believe it is unquestionably true; we need well published, in-depth research to arm us with facts to combat that stigma. A motorcycle, while unquestionably a damn good time, is actually a superior mode of transportation, not a toy.

Sincerely,
Moto Adventurer

 

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Red River Scramble 2018: The Bluegrass Adventure Rally

Kentucky Highway 77 Nada Tunnel MotoADVR2018 is finally here, beyond a lengthy list of goals I’ve already set for this year, another big one is to host the second edition of “Red River Scramble”. For new visitors to the blog, Red River Scramble is a casual grassroots motorcycle rally hosted by yours truly in Red River Gorge, Kentucky. For those unfamiliar, nestled in the Appalachian foothills, Red River Gorge is a canyon system littered with sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls, and natural arches. The paved roads in and around the gorge are some of the best in the Bluegrass State, meanwhile the off-road riding offers adventure seekers challenges over a myriad of conditions with intimate access to some of the area’s unique scenery.

Long time readers here know that eastern Kentucky is arguably my favorite place to ride, so I want to share that experience with similar minded motorcyclists. Rose the Scrambler Miguels Pizza MotoADVRThis year the event will run from Friday, June 1st, to Sunday June 3rd, and will be held primarily at the Natural Bridge Campground in Slade, Kentucky. I expect that I will ride down Friday morning, catch lunch at Miguel’s Pizza (I’ll be easy to spot, Rosie is unmistakable at this point), spend a little time wandering around the gorge until I can get keys to my cabin at the campground. At that point I’ll get a good fire rolling as I wait for more guests to roll in. It’s my intent for attendees to enjoy some casual riding and sight-seeing Friday afternoon, then meet up for a campfire at my cabin as an informal meet-and-greet and “check-in”;SkyBridge MotoADVR that should give folks a chance to mingle and form riding groups for the next morning. Saturday will be the big riding day as I expect quite a few groups will tackle the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway (DBBB), while others break off to see more of the local landmarks and enjoy the twisty pavement. After a long day of riding Saturday, folks can again gather around the fire pit and “swap lies” about the day’s adventures. As of this moment, I’m also planning on having a few (limited) giveaways Saturday evening.

Chimney Top Rock Pano 3 MotoADVRJust like last year, admission is free, and riders will be responsible for their own gas, meals and lodging arrangements; I will however be sure to point you in the direction of a good time, that much I can do. The event will again be rain or shine, so please plan accordingly; hopefully the Bluegrass State will bless us with comfortable June weather. Natural Bridge Campground has multiple levels of accommodations, from fully furnished cabins with indoor plumbing, designated RV parking with associated hook-ups, multiple tent camp sites including 110V power connections, along with typical primitive arrangements; bathroom and shower houses are also available for campers.

DCIM125GOPRO“Adventure” is the spirit of the event but again, dual sport bikes are not required. Per my previous comments, paved roads in the area are some of the best in the state, many of which also grant attendees access to some of the best views. Inversely, the dual sport riding can accommodate a multitude of skill levels; The DBBB includes challenging trails around the entire area, meanwhile riders new to dirt can get a taste for gravel on many of the well-manicured forest service roads inside Daniel Boone National Forest.Spaas Creek Road Triumph Scrambler MZ Baghira MotoADVR Seasoned adventure riders may also want to consider making an entire week of the event and tackling the Kentucky Adventure Tour (KAT) as it overlaps with the northern portion of the DBBB in Slade. Just like last year, the “Red River Scramble: Where to Ride” post is live and updated. Attendees can get access to maps from that post and the associated links.

I have also set up several supporting pages for the event this year, most importantly Registration. Again, admission is free, but I would like folks to register so I can get a rough “head count”; it will also make it easier to contact attendees with additional information about the event. Along with registration, I have a general event page which includes links to the associated sites, along with a specific FAQ site which covers a few topics more in detail (i.e. dining and alternate accommodations). The Red River Scramble REVER group is also still live for folks that want to join Rever and preview maps per my comments above. There is also a Facebook Event for this year’s rally if you wish to share the event on social media.

Considering there’s plenty of snow on the ground in many parts of the country, now’s as good a time as any to tune up your motorbike. Mark your calendars and we’ll see you in June.

Quick Links

2018RedRiverScrambleFlyer

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