First Impressions

I love it.

It was way different from the little Eliminators and rebels at the MSF course. It moves. When I first got on it, I rolled on the throttle just a little too much coming out of the stop at the entrance to the parking lot at the dealership. It started to roar right across the road, instead of turning as I intended. I headed straight for a sedan parked on the other side of the road.

I instantly hit the clutch, pulled both brakes, got her under control, then made the turn. it was a lot wider than I had intended, but I made it. That was a scary half-second or so. Definite loss of cool points.

Fortunately, the dealership is tucked away in an industrial park with very little traffic. So, I spent a half hour riding up and down the road, stopping, starting, making turns, and generally getting used to the brakes, clutch, and throttle response.

After the rides I wrote about below, I went out for one last ride before dark. In California, the learner’s permit doesn’t allow you to drive at night, but the last, 40-minute ride in the cool sunset was refreshing, and was ready–if not eager–to start on my homework for my MBA course. Actually, I’m not sure I want to do too much night riding, but I would’ve tonight. Oh well, in two weeks I get my certificate from the MSF course in the mail, and I can walk into the DMV and get my full M1 endorsement.

I see a lot of complaints on the forums about the sound of the stock Sportster. It sounds fine to me. It has a very nice bass rumble. It’s not loud enough to rattle the windows on all the neighborhood houses, but that’s OK. I’m not sure I want to ride something that loud. After all, I’m sitting right on top of all that sound, and too much would be a bit wearing.

It’s been mostly very smooth at the speeds I can drive it during the break-in period. They used to tell people not to drive over 50 miles per hour during the break-in. Now, they say don’t let it get over 4500 RPM on the engine. So, you can go about 60 MPH or so, as long as you’ve got it shifted to fifth. So, I’m shifting early for every gear.

When you do that, the engine just chugs deeply, as if it’s complaining at being held back.

When I rode up and back from Fallbrook, I kept it below 60. I did notice though, that, at above 50 MPH, some vibration definitely set in. Part of it was bumpy road on the 395, I suppose, and part was a lot of wind buffeting, since it was a fairly windy day. But, I expected it to be a little smoother. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, but it does jump around a lot more than a heavier touring bike.

On the other hand, a touring bike doesn’t have this kind of acceleration. I haven’t gotten to use it much, and I won’t for a while, obviously, but you can tell. It’s there. Waiting.

I also had two…well…I don’t think you can call them close calls, because they weren’t dangerous or anything. But there were two times when the bike didn’t go exactly where I wanted it to in turns. Once was turning left from a stoplight, where I went into the right lane at the end of the turn, instead of the left lane. I was looking at the pavement, instead of looking into the turn, and I cut it wide. No big deal, but I should’ve been able to cut that turn a lot shorter than I did.

Another time was on the road to Fallbrook. Again, I started to turn wide. I didn’t like where I was going in that turn, and I think I entered with just a skoche too much speed. So I straightened her out, gave her a little brake, then pushed the left handlebar down, converting the turn into a better line. I should’ve just done a better job of entering that curve, and riding through it more smoothly. It wasn’t even a tight curve or anything. I just wasn’t comfortable with what I was doing.

The MSF course taught me that, and it worked great. I’m glad I finished the course before getting the bike. It was really good for laying down the basic technique, and giving you a basis for self-critique. And of course, for helping to ensure that, when you do make a slight misjudgment, or you don’t like what you’re doing at a given moment, you have the basic skills to correct it without much effort.

It was also great for teaching you what to watch for all the time while you’re riding, and keeping your riding within your limits. That’s vitally important, because if you’re cutting down your risk by staying within your limits, your mistakes are salvageable ones. It’s when you start going outside your skill envelope that mistakes can cost you more than cool points.

You see that kind of behavior all the time on guys that ride sport bikes. I was driving home on the I-15 a few months ago, and I saw this guy on a sport bike lift the front wheel and do a wheelie down the Interstate. Stupid.

I guess I’m really into self-critique right now. And, from talking to some senior riders, it seems like the best of them are always critiquing themselves. I think that’s a good habit. I also noticed when driving my truck today that I’m driving differently with it, too. Better different. I’m thinking about what I’m doing a lot more.

Counter-steering the Sporty is pretty much effortless at speed. You push down on the handlebar, and the bike just goes into this stately lean that feels really great. I’d kinda like to run through some of the MSF exercises like slaloming with this bike, to see how it responds. it seems like a very nimble bike for its weight.

Overall, my first impression with this bike is very positive. Its a fairly easy bike to ride, once you get used to the control interactions. I think it’ll be great for commuting, especially on the low-traffic roads I ride on. And, of course, at my age, I no longer have much interest in trying to break 120 MPH, do wheelies, or any of that other sort of stuff. I’m content to poke along at the posted speed limit, enjoying the freedom of the ride. I think I’m gonna get a lot of that.

Oh yeah, I got waves from other bikers, today, too. I’m sure that after a while, all that waving will be annoying. But for now, it’s kinda cool.

Happy Harleyday! For Real This Time!

Finally, it happened! We got to the dealership today and everything went perfectly. I finally got it.

Here it is. This was my first look at the finished bike. It looks even better now than it did as a basic model sitting on the showroom.

This is the sales guy officially handing the keys over to me. I’m glad Chris was there with her camera to record this historic moment. Of course, now that I have it…I have to ride it.

Here I am taking it out from the parking lot on the first ride.

I ran it in and out of the parking lot, and up and down the little industrial park street to get used to it.

Once I had gotten used to it a bit, and felt comfortable, it was off to the house. I still don’t have my full M1 permit, so instead of going up the I-15, we drove home via Pomerado Road. It was a great drive. Not too many lights, light traffic. Other bikers waving as they passed. It was great. Then, when Pomerado Road ended, we took off through Bandy Canyon and the San Pasqual Valley. It was just a great ride, and perfect, with even a few mild twisties to get used to the bike on.

Once we got her home, though, I had to get into the truck to drive to the Camp Pendleton Motorcycle Training office, to get the little yellow card that allows me to ride a motorcycle on base. Once I did that, I raced back home. I had a little less than an hour to make the 45-minute ride up to the Naval Weapons Station in Fallbrook to register the bike. I made it to the pass & ID office with less than five minutes to spare.

But the bike got registered, so i can drive it to work on Thursday. I did, I admit, go by my office to let the guys look at it. Then it was a 45-minute ride back to the house.

I hated to put the bike up, but, unfortunately, I have other things I have to do. So, I’ll have to be satisfied with 2 1/2 hours on the bike today.

Still, today was a good day.

I Passed

It was a long, hot day on the MSF riding range today. Officially, the air temperature was 95. On the asphalt pad, it must’ve been significantly hotter.

We did lots of turning, cornering, and swerving, then we took the skills test. They docked me three points on my emergency stop, but overall, my rider evaluation score was 97, which was the second highest in the class.

But I was happy with the score, and happy to get my MSF card.

Now, I just gotta get my certificate, and I’m good to go.

Fortunately, both of my instructors work on Camp Pendleton, so after I pick up my bike tomorrow morning, I’ll drive my truck to Pendleton, and I can pick up my certificate.

Hopefully.

If all goes well.

Good Lord willin’.

Creek don’t rise.

OK, So It Isn’t Happy Harleyday

I am getting really, really irked at San Diego Harley. My bike wasn’t ready today. it was supposed to be. I was told it was ready on Friday. But when I got there today, it wasn’t.

We got to the dealership at 9:00am exactly. I walked into the sales desk and picked up my registration. Then I went to the service desk to get my bike, only to be told that it wasn’t finished. But, they assured me, it would be done by 11.

Moreover, when I looked at the work order, the one module to turn the turn signals into running He He’d even written down the labor estimate for it. He told me he was sending a driver down to the downtown store to pick it up, since they were the only store that had one.

But it never made it onto the work order. Why would it? Why?

Once again, I started making everyone uncomfortable. At one point, I had the parts guy, the other chrome consultant, and the service guy all together, while I said, “Gentlemen, this is the third trip down to this dealership. It’s the third time I have asked for this part to be placed on my work order. Why am I having this same conversation three times? What seems to be the problem that causes this work order never to be completed?”

No one had any answers, of course. Nor do they seem very conmfortable when a customer gets angry at their non-performance.

And now, all the stores are out of stock on this part, so it’ll be a while before I can get it on my bike.

Running down this problem–again–took an hour.

Now, my plan was to pick up the bike at nine, then spend twenty minutes or so on the walkthrough, then a half-hour getting used to it in stops, starts, and turns. i figured I’d be out of there by 10:30 at the latest, then I could make it to the MSF course range by 1:00. So, at 10;30, I asked how close we were to getting the bike.

Service boy goes back and asks the tech how it’s going, then comes back and says, “He says he should have it ready by noon.

By noon.

“But don’t worry, it’ll be ready in time to get you where you need to go.”

“Really? I need it right now. Is it ready right now?”

“No.”

Then it won’t be ready in time to get me where I need to go, will it?”

Silence, shuffling of some suddenly important paperwork.

So, I give my registration back to the sales manager, and tell him I’ll try and pick up the bike tomorrow.

On our way out, the service guy said, “I’ll give you a call as soon as your bike is ready.”

Did he call, you ask? Of course not. Why would he? Why?

No, I called the dealership at about 4:30 and asked if it was ready. “Oh, yeah,” the guy said, like it was the silliest question in the world, “That bike’s ready.”

Thanks.

I guess I’m learning why Harley dealers have such a bad rep with Harley owners.

Anybody got any ideas about how I can get my three hours back that the Harley stealership took from me this morning?

Happy Harleyday!

It’s time to hit the sack for the evening. But it’s just rolled past midnight, which means that today is the day I pick up my Harley from the dealership! The wait is almost over. Just a few hours of sleep, and it’ll be time to drive down and get my bike.

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.