Riding Day

Well, the MFS class went really well today. I was surprised that I remembered so much about riding, and, for the most part, all of the exercises came fairly easily. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was rusty, and some things like slaloming weren’t as smooth as they should’ve been, but for the most part, today was worth a big boost in confidence. I haven’t forgotten how to do this.

Chris came with me for part of the day, and shot some pictures of the activities, such as the one here.

The MFS course gives you a really good basic start. They begin at the beginning, how to do a pre-ride check. Then they move on to how to mount and dismount. Then, how to start the bike. Then they go into how to shift into neutral and first. next, you test out the frictin point on the clutch by using it to rock the bike back and forth. Once you;ve done that, you start walking the bike with the clutch at the edge of the friction point. Then finally, you actually ride it!

That takes about an hour and a half.

After that, though, it goes quickly. You practice starting and stopping, and doing turns. Then,you get it out of fist gear, and do some shifting and downshifting from second. Then you do emergency stops from second gear, while shifting back down into first. Then you practice shifting in turns.

Finally, at the end of the day, you do some slaloming, alternated with stop&gos, and very low speed balance runs.

All of it very useful to get used to how a bike responds.

Finally, after six hours on the riding range, we went in for the second half of the classroom stuff. At the end of the evening, we took the written test. I was the first one to finish, and scored 100%.

So, one more six-hour stint on the range, and I’m done!

The bad news for the day, though was that we won’t be getting our certificates for a while. They said we have to give them up to 10 business days to get our certificates to us. So, that means no motorcycle commuting for another two weeks.

That sucks.

Tomorrow, Compadres…We Ride!

The first session of the MSF course is over. This was all classroom stuff tonight, but tomorrow at 1:00pm, we start riding. Finally. This will be my first time back on a motorcycle since 1987.

And that wasn’t a good time, since I dumped the bike. It was a dirt bike, not a street bike, and I was just blazing through the desert, when I hit a bump. Unfortunately, I was riding with my throttle hand wrist high, and when the front wheel jumped, I rolled to full on throttle. So there I was, flying through the air, still in more or less the proper riding position, and I briefly watched the bike dance on the rear wheel.

Then I met Mr. Ground.

I was OK, and, apart from a few scratches, so was the bike.

I’m hoping tomorrow goes much better than that last ride did, though.

One downer about the class has already appeared. We won’t get our completion certificates for the DMV for 10 business days. So, I can’t get my real license for another two weeks. I’m not even sure we’ll get our wallet cards, either. If so, that means I won’t be able to start riding to work yet.

And, even if we do get the cards, I’m not sure that I can drive the bike onto base with the learner’s permit and the safety card. I guess I’ll have to call–or even better, ride up to the base on Monday, and see what the deal is.

The Countdown Continues

The Service Dept. at San Diego Harley called today, and told me that they were building my bike. It should be finished tomorrow morning, and ready to pick up in the afternoon.

I wish I could do it, but, I’m out of time. I don’t get off of work until 4:00pm, and I have to be at the MSF course which begins tomorrow evening at 6:30. So, I may not get it this weekend at all. The Saturday and Sunday sessions, both of which are riding portions of the course, don’t start until 1:00pm both days, though.

At this point, my tentative plan is to do the Saturday riding portion of the course to see how I feel on a ‘cycle again. If I feel good about where I am, I plan to be at San Diego Harley when the doors open at 9:00am to pick up the bike. That’ll give me a half-hour to do the walk-around, another half-hour to an hour to practice with it on the deserted street next to the dealership, then drive it home.

I’ve already Google-mapped a route that’ll get me home in good time without going on the freeway. I might even ride the ‘cycle to the Sunday session of the class, although I will, of course, use the bikes provided by the course, rather than use my new one for the training.

Then, first thing Monday morning, I’ll take my completion card to the DMV and trade in my learner’s permit for the real M1 license.

Three more days. Getting closer…

Four days…or less?

If the guys at the dealership do what they’re supposed to, my bike will be ready for pickup tomorrow. Theoretically, I can pick it up after work. I already mapped out a route that will get me home without ever having to go on the freeway, which I am restricted from doing with my learner’s permit.

Man, I’d love to do that!

I don’t think I will, though, even though the temptation is very powerful.

Not having been on a bike in 20 years, except a brief stint on a trike a month ago, it just wouldn’t be prudent to try and drive home during rush hour, even on surface streets.

But, now that I know how to get there, I don’t have to wait until Monday either. My MSF course starts the day after tomorrow, and finishes early Sunday afternoon. By that time, I will have spent about 11 hours on a bike–albeit a little 250cc ricer–practicing crash avoidance, maneuvering and steering exercises all weekend. It’ll all be fresh in my mind.

Sunday afternoon is perfect for me, then. There won’t be much surface street traffic on the weekend, and I’ll get the bike a day earlier than planned. So, Monday morning, I can take the bike over to the DMV, present my MSF card, and get my real motorcycle license, without having to drag Chris away from her job on Monday morning.

Since I’m taking Monday through Wednesday off next week, that’ll also give me three days of riding to get more used to the bike. If I feel good, it’s off to work straight up the 395 on Thursday!

A couple of blocks away from my house, they’re building a new subdivision. There aren’t any houses yet in one portion of it, but all the new paved roads have been put in. Hopefully, that means I’ll have a good portion of totally empty streets to practice in for a while. I can practice a lot of figure-eights, turning, and braking without any of that distracting traffic to worry about.

Sure, maybe I’m being a bit overcautious, but when it comes to motorcycles, overconfidence is a killer.

So, It looks like I’ll be riding in practice in three days, and riding my very own Harley, for real, in four.

Technical Arcana

Put me in front of a computer, and I can make it sing. It’s what I do for a living. people pay me to create web sites, develop software, and do web site hosting. When I talk about Cascading Style Sheets, dynamic IP adddresses, or the ADO.NET object model, I can watch the eyes of my non-technical clients actually glaze over while I watch.

For instance, I’ll say something like, “The first file is the blogroll.ascx control. This control implements the code from the Dotblog.Controls.Blogroll.vb file, which, in the case of this example, pulls some text out of a database and formats it. The vb file is then compiled into a DLL named Dotblog.Controls.Blogroll.dll. This DLL is then placed in the bin folder of the web site. Finally there is the default.aspx page, which displays the control.”

They look at me with great interest as I start saying that, but by the time I reach the end, I can tell that they’re thinking, “You know, maybe I should buy the kids a puppy…”

Well, as it happens, that’s how I am with mechanical stuff. The last time I personally changed the oil in a car, for example, was, I believe, in 1984.

So, when I go to the Harley Davidson Forums and read stuff like, “I just got a big performance boost by doing a stage 1, rejet, and throwing on some Screaming Eagle II’s on my sporty!” my thoughts are usually something like, “I wonder if Fry’s has a good price on an external hard drive for my laptop…”

Don’t get me wrong. I desperately want to do do a Stage 1, rejet, and install Screaming Eagle II’s. It sounds wonderful. It’s just that I don’t have a clue what any of that stuff is.

Why Ride at All?

I’ve been thinking a lot about riding a motorcycle–obviously. And you know what? I can’t explain why I want this so badly. I know it can be dangerous. I see completely crappy drivers here in Southern California every day. I almost had a guy whack my truck on the way home today, making a lane change while yacking away on a cell phone. Nurses, as a commenter pointed out, call motorcycles “donorcycles.” As in “Organ Donor”.

And I still can’t wait to get back on a bike–my very own Harley!–and roar off down the road. I can’t explain it. All I know is that it’s a weird hunger that I can’t ignore. It’s something I have to do.

I dream about riding every night. It’s the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning. I already have rides planned. It’s a desire that overcomes the knowledge–the certain knowledge–that I will dump my bike at some point.

If I had no experience on a bike, or if I had never dumped one (two actually), then maybe I could explain it by just saying that I think motorcycle riding will be all fuzzy kittens and fluffy bunnies. But I know it won’t be.

And, when looked at rationally, riding itself, for the most part, shouldn’t be all that fun. In the summer, leathers are too hot. You sweat like a pig in your helmet. Here in the desert, if you take any of that stuff off, you get seriously dehydrated and wind-burned. If it rains just the slightest bit, the roads get all slick and scary. If it’s foggy, you get damp and cold. You can’t enjoy a delicious beverage on the road, or slip another CD into the stereo.

It’s just you, the road, the wind, little comfort, and even less protection.

And I can’t wait to do it.

What We Have Here…Is Failure to Communicate

Huh. So, remember the two grand cash card my Harley salesman gave me to buy accessories? Well, they were supposed to pay for all the extra mods I bought with the bike. So, I now understand how they could afford to comp me all that stuff. They didn’t. I learned that when the parts manager called today to ask where the two grand was to pay for my mods.

Unpleasant discussion followed.

You see, the salesman didn’t explain clearly what the cash card was for. Had I understood it was supposed to be to pay for the parts and labor, I never would’ve spent it all on riding gear, obviously. It would’ve been nice to have gotten a clear explanation of why he was giving me that cash card.

And unpleasant discussion with the salesman ensued. He said, “Well, I usually just give the cash card straight to the parts manager, but I knew you needed to buy a helmet and stuff, so I went ahead and gave it to you so you could use it to buy riding gear.”

Yeah? Well, it would’ve been nice if you had explained that to me on Friday, wouldn’t it?

So, I had to take some time off work this afternoon, pick up all the gear I could return, and go back to to the dealership to pay for my parts. Unfortunately, I had already cut the extra length off the chaps, so they’re mine for good ($295). I also wore the boots this weekend, so they couldn’t be returned either ($150). My chick’s sparkly belt, clothing, and dog scarves stayed here ($200).

The helmet and gloves, of course, I have to keep, but I loaded up the rest of it in the truck and returned it, getting $1,044 back.

So, then it was off to pay for the parts, now with $1075 of my own money. Whereupon the parts guy informs me that, since I hadn’t paid for the parts, they didn’t schedule my mods to be installed, so now I can’t pick up the bike until 6 July, this, despite being told repeatedly by the sales staff that I could pick up the bike on the 2nd.

At that point, I went from slightly disgruntled bald gentleman to shaven-headed, menacing asshole. “How about you keep the f*ckin’ bike, and I take my business somewhere else? I’ll walk out of here right now, and never come back.”

Ah. Well, that was a different story then. It turns out that I can, in fact, have my bike by the 2nd. In fact, I can pick it up on the 28th, if I want. Once the sale itself was at stake, the parts guy stated scurrying around to find every part I wanted. He even called other dealerships to see if he could get a back-ordered windshield from them, which they let him have.

Oh, and several of the parts on my list were the wrong ones. So, that was all screwed up, too. We had to go over the parts list line by line to get that straight, and he pulled every part from stock he could find, to be sure it was set aside for my bike.

Why isn’t anything ever easy any more? I mean, I finally got it all sorted out (although I ended up with a three hundred dollar pair of riding chaps I didn’t need) but Jebus!

Customer service is dead. You almost have to threaten people with physical harm just to get them to do the bare minimum they should already be doing just to keep their jobs. Act all nice and accommodating, and they just screw you.

Riding this motorcycle better be be some damn fun.

Safety First

I learned about another mod this weekend that I really need. For about $54, you can get a module for the Sportster that will change the rear turn signals into a running lights/brake lights/turn signal combo. That should provide a little extra visibility, just like the three headlight auxiliary lighting combo does for the front.

More visibility = Good Thing.

The Kearny Mesa store for San Diego Harley didn’t have them in stock, but fortunately the Downtown store did, so they said they’d fetch the module today, and add it to the work order for my bike.

Ah, my bike. Seven more days, not counting today.

I Must be a Bad Influence

I mentioned my friend at work with the V-Star 1100 hundred. Well, he doesn’t have it any more.

When I pulled up to work this morning, in his parking space was a brand new, shiny Midnight Venture 1300 touring bike. It’s got everything. Am/FM stereo, cassette player, cruise control, the whole nine yards. So, while I was buying my motorcycle this weekend, he was, too. Apparently, he went in to find some peg clamps to mount road pegs on his engine guards. Instead of getting them, he got a new motorcycle instead.

He says all my talk about getting a new motorcycle must’ve influenced him. He also said that, as soon as I pick up my bike, I have to drive it over to Oceanside so he can see it.

I think he’s looking for a riding partner. As it happens, so am I.

Making Mommy Unhappy

My mother hates the very idea of me getting on a motorcycle. I talked to her on the phone the other day and when I mentioned it, she told me she didn’t want to hear anything more about it. She just wants to pretend that motorcycles don’t exist.

The thing is, I’m picking up the bike on 2 July, the day after I graduate from the MSF course and get my full M1 license. I’m also taking 2-4 July off work, basically so I can take some rides in the low-traffic roads around my house, and get used to riding.

If I feel good about my skills, I’m gonna start commuting on Thursday the 5th. We’ll see.

Now, my grandmother is still alive, and lives with my mother, and she is having her…I dunno…89th or 90th birthday on Saturday, the 7th of July. And if I do feel good about my abilities, a ride to my mom’s house would be great. Even though she lives right off Interstate 215, I can pretty much take the old, sparsely-traveled 395 highway to Temecula, which is a very nice ride, and goes through part of a national forest, then take the desert roads that parallel the 215 north up to my mother’s house in Wildomar.

On the other hand, my mother will have a cow if she hears the Harley snarl, and sees me show up at the door in riding gear.

Maybe it shows a lack of respect for her fears and feelings, but I’d really like to do it anyway.

I’m not a Biker…But I am a Harley Owner

I went into the Kearny Mesa store of San Diego Harley this afternoon, and actually signed the papers on my XL 1200C. It’s in the Service dept now, so they can put all the extra goodies I bought on it.

San Diego Harley wasn’t my first choice. I actually have a much closer dealership a couple of minutes from my house. But, when I went in there last Sunday, they let me wander around for about 25 minutes or so without asking if I wanted any help.

One guy did ask if I needed help, and when I told him what I was looking for, he sent me over to the Sportsters and told me he’d be right with me…and disappeared. I finally had to go grab another salesguy. The funny thing is, while I was waiting, I overheard a sales guy complaining that business was slowing down.

OK, well, here’s a clue: If business is slowing down, letting a customer wander about for a half hour with no help isn’t gonna make it pick up, ass.

About the only thing that was good about that trip to that dealer–who I will not even name–was that the sales guy did sort of explain to me why I should probably go with the 1200cc version rather than the 883cc version of the Sporty.

But, I decided that, overall, with the lack of service and the attitude of the people there, I just didn’t want to give them my business.

San Diego Harley-Davidson was like night and day, though. What a fantastic dealer experience! Everybody there was as helpful and friendly as can be. They had exactly the Cobalt Blue Pearl bike—with Pacific Blue Pearl pin striping—that I wanted. 45 minutes after I walked in, they were taking my picture with the bike as its new owner! They even waived the $500 for dealer prep. The bike looks pretty much like the one on the right.

My bike has some things the picture doesn’t. The picture isn’t the actual bike, it’s one from the Harley web site’s customizer feature. My bike also has the triple headlight auxiliary lighting package and chrome engine guards. The color and everything else are close, though.

Affordability was still a question. I’ve got a good job, but I’m not rich, so I really wanted to work out the numbers.

For the last several years, I’ve been paying off an old credit card debt. I’ve been paying $200 a month for a long time. But, the balance is close enough to zero that I can just pay it off. So, there’s $200 a month. Then there’s the gas savings. Right now, I’m shelling out $200 a month in diesel for my truck. I figure that going from an average of 17MPG in the truck to $50 MPG for a ‘cycle will bring the gas down to about 60-80 a month.

So, that clears out about $310-$330 a month.

With that, assume $250 a month for a motorcycle, and another $60 a month for insurance, and I’m back up to $310 a month. As I do the math, that makes it come out just about a wash financially, with what I’ve been paying every month up to now.

A regular 1200C doesn’t cost all that much. It would be way below my $250 a month budget for the cycle payment, anyway. With my budget, I was able to trick out the bike with the big bucket seat, chrome engine guards, sissy bar, touring backrest, triple headlights, chrome luggage rack, etc. Total cost was slightly north of $14,000, and the monthly payment came out to $253.

I was very happy with the purchase, and I pick up the bike next Monday.

Well, I thought I was done, once I had bought the bike.

Still needed some riding gear though. So, I was in the accessories store, getting ready to shell out $275 on a new helmet and $50 for gloves, when my salesman, TC, walked up to me with a gift card for $2,126.48! Because of all the extra parts I bought with the bike, they comped the price of parts in a gift card.

I have no earthly idea how they can afford to comp me all that gear for the parts, but it was just great. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I bought the deluxe leather chaps, one nylon and one leather jacket—both with body armor—boots, helmet, leather vest, some stuff for my chick, and more. I’ve never had a shopping spree like that in my life. I burned every cent of that two grand, but I’ve got just about every piece of riding gear I could possibly want.

I can’t wait until 2 July to pick up my Sporty! Until then, I’ve got all the riding gear…and nothing to ride.

Why a Harley?

It’s funny, but I never even thought of getting anything other than a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. I looked at some scooters, initially. Piaggio makes a three-wheeler that leans. It’s kinda cool. But, though they make a 400cc version, it isn’t sold in California, and I don’t like the idea of doing any real street driving with a 250cc bike of any kind. I looked at the big 600cc Honda Silver Wing scooter, too.

But, after a day or so, I wondered, “Why a scooter at all?” For the price of a Silver Wing, I could get a better motorcycle. And, really, the only advantage a scooter has is an automatic tranny.

But, when I test drove the spyder, working the 5-speed gearbox wasn’t any trouble. The most difficult thing about the Spyder, in fact, was the lack of a front brake handle, since the Spyder’s three disc brakes are all operated by the foot pedal. So, I kept grabbing for something on the handlebars that wasn’t there. But working those 5 gears to upshift or downshift came back to me in no time.

And the Silver Wing was almost $10,000. At the end of the day, why get a half motorcycle when for the same price, you can get a real one?

And that brought me to Harley, and the Sportster.

There’s just nothing like a Harley. No other motorcycle company has that…oh, I dunno. mystique. Prestige. Image. Whatever it is, only a Harley has it. And the price of a cruiser from Honda, or Yamaha was the same as–or more–than a Sportster.

I don’t know what it is, but riding a Harley just means something that riding another make doesn’t. There’s a…mythos to the damn things that you can’t escape.

So, I went to the local Harley dealership to start looking.