Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Addictions…

I often get into new hobbies and activities after reading about them. My problem is, I never seem to be able to get into anything half-heartedly. It’s all or nothing.

A decade ago I happened to be browsing magazines in the local Barnes and Nobles, and ran across the ARRL’s QST with an article about building your own high-performance amateur radio transceiver.k2100d To make a long story short, I bought the magazine, read the article, and then thought How cool would it be to build a radio and then be able to talk around the world on it? Within six months I had obtained my Amateur General license with operating privileges on the worldwide HF bands, and bought and built the Elecraft K2 kit featured in that magazine. A year later I had several ham radios for HF and VHF/UHF, and had talked from Seattle to Tanzania, Kamchatka, Argentina, and the South Pole on 5 watts of radio power. Think about that for a moment… with less electrical energy than a powerful flashlight and without any infrastructure (read: Internet) I was able to communicate around the world. That is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

I won’t even go into my addiction for firearms that led me into opening what was, at the time, the state’s largest indoor shooting range and gun shop. Suffice it to say that I learned a very powerful lesson: never turn your avocation into your vocation. Why not? Because you spend all of your time working at what should be fun, and then when you have some leisure time you don’t want to spend it doing what you do all of the time.

My latest addiction is motorcycles. It started innocently enough, after watching a fly fishing video:

Western Alpine Fly Fishing for Bass

In the video, the fisherman gets into the remote lake by loading his gear onto a ‘80s-era Honda CT-110 motorcycle. While fly-fishing has also been a less intense addiction than most others for me, the motorcycle piqued my interest as a better way to get into remote areas than loading up a pack frame on my back and hiking a couple of miles from my truck (for those of you who don’t live out West, this is BIG country). So, I kept my eye open for a CT-90 (the original ‘70s-era version) or CT-110 at a reasonable price, and picked up a ‘70 CT-90 a few months later.


The CT-90 was an excellent motorcycle for a new rider. My previous experience had been as a teenager swapping out the use of my air rifle for an afternoon to a neighbor who had a CT-70; his parents were totally against guns, and mine didn’t want me to have anything to do with motorcycles, so we’d trade and each get to enjoy a little forbidden fruit. Later on, I rode a motorcycle just TWO times as a adult; once on a friend’s Suzuki 400 and another time on a co-worker’s Kawasaki 750 (the 750 was too big for me, and I almost put it down trying to get started… once I had sufficient speed up, it was easy to ride and turn, and I was able to successfully ride down to the end of the parking lot, turn it around and ride back to a stop). At any rate, the automatic clutch and bicycle-like brakes (a lever on each handlebar, plus a rear brake pedal on the right side) made it enough like a bicycle to make the CT-90 a good beginner’s bike. However, it’s low power and lack of a clutch, the attributes which made it good for beginners, became weaknesses as my interests progressed. (BTW, it’s for sale… a 1970 K2 with less than 1500 original miles in great condition.)

My next bike was a Honda CRF230L, a dual-sport (street-legal but capable of off-road riding) that I picked because it was a Honda dual-sport.2009_CRF230L_145x90_Red_trans Here in Washington state, you cannot operate an unlicensed (not-street-legal) motorcycle on the unpaved forest roads in the state and national forests, and that is a large amount of the unpaved roads and trails in the state and throughout the West, so a street-legal bike is a necessity unless you want to be restricted to your own land or the few crowded designated ‘off-highway vehicle’ (OHV) areas. I chose the Honda because of Honda’s well-deserved bullet-proof mechanical reputation, and I chose this particular bike instead of something larger like Suzuki’s DRZ400 or the Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki 650 dual-sports because of it’s light weight and low saddle height. I’ve owned the bike since February and it’s been an enjoyable way to work on my riding skills. It’s also a good tool for spending time with my son; he has a Honda XR70 that I bought him for his 10th birthday which allows us to go trail riding together.

Even though the CRF230L is a great motorcycle for what it is, my addiction made me want something more suitable for longer distances on paved roads. The 230L gets a little squirrelly at highway speeds with its knobbies, and the 223cc engine is not meant to be run at high RPMs for hours on end. I don’t mind throwing it in the back of my pickup and driving to trail heads, but what about riding around Mount Rainier, or around the Yakima River canyon for a day? Nope… I needed a road bike.

After test-riding various Harley Sportster-based bikes, plus a few Yamahas, Kawasakis and Suzukis, I decided what I didn’t want: anything super-high performance, anything that made me lean forward, anything that made it easy to lift the front wheel off the ground with some injudicious use of the throttle and/or clutch, anything with a high saddle height, anything that made its horsepower well up in the RPM range. That pretty much ruled out most of the sport bikes, and a lot of the ‘adventure’ bikes like the V-Strom, the KLR650, and the big Beemers. I found that I liked everything about the Harleys except for the fact they were Harleys: a fine motorcycle but I definitely do not fit the demographic of the typical Harley rider. That was when I stumbled across an article about Honda’s DN-01, a concept bike that was Honda’s modern interpretation of a sports/cruiser combination that had been brought into production. Honda calls it a ‘crossover.’

The DN-01 is a different beast. Unlike sport bikes it has a fairly long wheelbase (62” versus the mid-50” range), is heavy (595 lbs versus mid-400 lb range), and has a low saddle (28” versus 31” or thereabouts for most street bikes). 2009_Honda_DN-01_IMG_0216It also has a 680cc V-twin engine, a great design for a cruiser that pulls well at low revs, unlike the typical high-revving inline-4 crotch rocket engines. Perhaps the biggest difference: there’s no clutch. The DN-01 uses Honda’s HFT (Human-Friendly Transmission) hydraulic automatic transmission that is much more like a car’s transmission than the typical CVT found in motor scooters. However like a CVT the gear ranges are infinite. The combination of electronics and mechanical wizardry in the HFT allows for 100% lockup for maximum efficiency yet the transmission ratios can be continually adjusted to provide the best combination of engine RPM for a given speed and power demand. The result is an incredibly smooth riding experience… just twist it and go.

I test-rode a DN-01 down in Oregon a month ago while on business, and decided to buy it after the dealer made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (about half the original MSRP). The DN-01 has sold well in Europe, but not so well here in the US, probably due to the fact that it was introduced during the middle of our Great Recession and at a fairly high factory MSRP. At any rate, the few that are left at dealerships are often priced very aggressively. A week ago I returned to Oregon on business, planning ahead by arranging a one-way car rental and bringing only soft luggage and a Giant Loop Coyote bag to cart everything home in.

While I was at the dealership I also picked up a new Shoei Hornet dual-sport helmet, as I knew my offroad helmet and goggles would be insufficient to multi-hour interstate trips. The Hornet is touted as a true dual-sport helmet, as it can be used on the street with a clear shield, or the shield can be easily removed and the rider can used goggles. However, the one drawback of the Hornet is that you must remove the visor before riding at high speeds, otherwise the wind resistance is so great that your head is pulled back. Don’t ask me how I know this! IMG045At any rate, I returned to the dealership before heading off to Seattle, removed the visor and stowed it in my computer backpack, bought a new Joe Rocket Ballistic 7.0 jacket as well to augment my inexpensive nylon mesh jacket, and after cramming the old jacket into the coyote bag, lashing the bag to the back of the DN-01, and then lashing my backpack on top of it, hit the road. Of course, by then it was almost 8 pm. No way to get home before dark, so I figured I’d head north and stop for the night when the twilight faded.

After a quick discussion with a few folks who were hanging out at the shop, I decided against heading northwest on Oregon Hwy 30 to Rainier Oregon and then hopping over the Columbia River on the Longview Bridge. I’ve driven this route several times, and ridden it on a bicycle several times also as it is the last 50 miles of the Seattle-to-Portland double century ride, but riding west into the sun on a two-lane road didn’t seem like all that good of an idea. Instead, I hopped on Hwy 26 back east 10 miles to Portland, and then got on I-5 and headed north.

At first I was very nervous, not having any experience riding on a controlled-access highway at high speed and on a new motorcycle, but that soon faded. Wind blast was an issue also; I was not used to the tremendous air resistance encountered at highway speeds,IMG006 and the occasional gusts caused by semis. And, as I crossed the I-5 bridge across Columbia River north of Portland, the 20 mph wind coming through the Gorge from the Pacific to the eastern Oregon deserts had me leaning to the left just to keep the bike going straight. The temperature dropped as the sun set and by the time I hit Woodland, about 25 miles north of Portland, I was starting to shiver, so I pulled into a McDonald’s for dinner, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a medium hot chocolate. It took me a while to warm up, even sitting inside a warm restaurant and drinking hot chocolate, so I decided to ride for another 10 or so miles, and then spend the night in Kelso.IMG043 I made it to the Red Lion before it got completely dark, and only realized after I had taken my helmet off to check in how many small bugs were stuck to my visor!

After a good night’s sleep, and a little sleeping in, I was a little worried about the remaining trip. Riding a motorcycle at highway speeds requires one’s full concentration, and is very fatiguing. Certainly this is something that can’t be done for several hundred miles without taking stops every hour or two… and I wanted to be in Seattle by 2:30 to make a phone call to the East Coast. IMG044I got everything packed up and headed north around 11 am, stopping to get gas and then deciding to eat just after noon in Centralia, about 100 miles and 2 hours from Seattle. Getting some food inside made me feel a lot more energetic and optimistic, so after taking a picture of myself in the window, and a picture of my loaded motorcycle, it was time to move on.

The last part of my trip went without incident. By now I was used to how the bike handled, and the wind blast. Running at 75 mph, the bike really ate up the miles, and the warmer daytime temperature was very comfortable. I made it back to Bellevue and up to my office with a minute to spare.  As I rode the couple of miles to home on surface streets after the call, I already missed the exhilaration of leaning into the wind, and into the turns, of looking over my shoulder, signaling, and then accelerating into a lane change. Of being alone with my thoughts while being completely in the moment, of  not consciously thinking anymore about maneuvering and countersteering but just doing, of being one with the motorcycle. That is my latest addiction, and I think I’ll need another fix very soon.