A Motorcycling Guide for New and Returning Riders

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This motorcycling guidebook is written for people in their 40s to their 60s who are interested in riding motorcycles. In recent years, the older rider has become the largest segment of motorcycle riders, and many in this age group see this as a great time to begin riding. Philip Buonpastore has written a book specific to those in this age group, providing advice for both first-time riders, as well as those getting back to riding after years off a motorcycle. The first half of his book builds on the basic steps of taking a motorcycle safety class (required in most states) and getting a motorcycle license, to considerations of style, size and price when purchasing your first motorcycle. Following chapters discuss adding safety accessories as well as comfort conveniences to the bike, purchasing motorcycle-specific (protective) clothing and safety gear, and more. The second half of his book contains stories of the author’s motorcycle tours around the United States, with insights and philosophies acquired from years of motorcycle travel, as well as his photography of the locales and some excellent riding roads around the country.

            Philip Buonpastore

Welcome to the “Shifting Gears at 50″ blog site!

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As you know, my name is Philip Buonpastore, and my book “Shifting Gears at 50, A Motorcycling Guide for New and Returning Riders” will be published in February, 2012.  So why is this book different from others about motorcycle riding?  It’s written for the new and returning older rider, who in the majority of cases is going to have different goals and desire different outcomes for two-wheeled travel than a rider in their twenties.

While I had ridden my older brother’s dirtbike and motorcycles owned by friends when I was younger, I did not own my first motorcycle until 1996, when I was 40 years old.  I emphasize this to show that even if you haven’t had the experience of riding a motorcycle in your younger days, it is still an attainable goal.  Having decided to give motorcycling a try, I signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) beginner’s class, thinking it would be the smart move to take the class and make sure I passed it before I made the financial commitment to buy a bike.  After I passed the class, I went looking for a motorcycle. I gave some thought to what I wanted before beginning the search.  The motorcycle I wanted would be small enough and easy enough to handle, but still be of sufficient size and engine displacement to be capable of easily maintaining highway speeds; one that would fit my needs as my experience grew, but wasn’t too much motorcycle for a beginner.  I decided that something around 750cc would be the right size for my requirements.

I had always liked cruiser-styled bikes, and after a week or two looking at various makes and models, I found a 1994 800cc Suzuki Intruder for sale at a reasonable price.  I liked the look of the bike, and just as importantly, it was a very good fit for my Italian 5’6″ stature. The controls of the bike fell comfortably to my hands and feet, and it was fun to ride and easy to handle, making me want to ride as often as possible.  Getting a bike that fits you well is certainly one of the most important considerations when buying a motorcycle, as this not only makes it easier for you to handle and control the bike, it will make you want to ride more, and hence acquire more riding experience.

Trying to "look cool" with my 1994 Suzuki Intruder

Thanks for visiting, and again, welcome to the “Shifting Gears at 50″ blog site.  I will be post updated news items and photos, as well as other information relating to motorcycle rides, and travels of any type, so stop by again.

Phil Buonpastore reviews the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage for Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine

In March and April 2014, I had the opportunity to tour-test an Indian Chief Vintage motorcycle, and the first of a series of articles on the bike will be published in the September issue of Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine!  An abridged version of the article is currently posted on line.  Please see the online article here:

http://www.motorcyclecruiser.com/cruisers/2014-indian-chief-vintage-review?dom=mcr&loc=contentwell&lnk=2014-indian-chief-vintage-review

High Tech vs. Low Tech Solutions

With the trend in the motorcycle industry towards ever-increasing levels of electronic management to control engine performance and ride characteristics, some examination should be made regarding the pros and cons of using technology to control all facets of motorcycle performance and handling; in short, to ask the question “Is more better?”  A discussion of the practical application of electronic engine and ride management seems to be overdue. In a recent editorial titled “Future Present” from Cycle World’s columnist Kevin Cameron, he wrote this:

Control electronics are a revolution in themselves, and a revolution that’s not over yet. There’s nothing to stop the transfer of everyting we’ve seen in MotoGP to high-end production motorcycles: throttle-by-wire; virtural powerbands as a matter of making even fairly harsh, racy engines respond smoothly; lean-angle sensors to help estimate tire traction in corners; and yaw control, all of which have been at work in cars for years. All of these can make motorcycles safer to operate…

While application of electronic management of motorcycle systems may indeed make riding safer, a question to ask is what is the point of producing a motorcycle with a “harsh, racy engine” and then using electronic complexity to tame it’s performance or less than desirable attributes? Besides those generally few riders who could actually use the full potential of an engine with race level performance capabilities (and even a rider with race-level riding skill would have to find an appropriate location to use that performance) where is the real value of this approach where it concerns the largest majority of motorcycle purchasers?

Understanding that in a real world situation that few of us would push a motorcycle to racing limits, the logic begins to get a bit fuzzy when electronic performance management must be employed to insure that those not capable of riding a motorcycle at a MotoGP level are protected from using the full capabilities of such a bike, or to manage the performance characteristics of a race-ready engine. It seems to be a self-contradicting concept.  Adding safety and engine performance features are a good thing. Anti-lock brakes are obvious, so is fuel injection. Traction control is a great idea, but as you begin to proceed further down the road, the concept of the practical application of engine and ride control systems begins to become less clear. Of course, as the engineering “trickles down” to other motorcycles, it is understood that the technology will be tailored to the capabilities of the specific bike, and system anomalies will continue to be corrected, but some metric to gauge what functions are ideally beneficial to the rider. And there is another important issue to consider; specifically, long-term maintenance costs to the owner.

While a new buyer may be wowed by all the “bells and whistles” that are becoming standard fare on new bikes, the increasingly higher levels of electronic complication may start to yield diminishing returns when it means a very high cost for motorcycle maintenance and repair. A problem with a throttle cable means an afternoon in the garage, a problem with throttle-by-wire system is an expensive repair at a dealership, where even the simplest maintenance procedures can yield an expensive bill. The required knowledge to understand complex interrelated electronic systems can be outside the capabilities of even the best of mechanics. What about the dealership’s costs for added diagnostic tools, which will inevitably be passed on to the customer? While many motorcycle journalists sing the praises of increased electronic engine and ride management, little attention seems to be given to how the advancing complexity will affect the cost of real-world motorcycle ownership.

In a discussion several years ago with David Hough (author of the Proficient Motorcycling book series) on the issue of electronic engine management, he related a situation where a previously owned Can-Am Spyder had a re-occurring drivability problem:

I had some electronic issues, one being that the engine would suddenly go into “limp home” mode after about 4 hours on the freeway. The error message on the dash showed “check DPS [Dynamic Power Steering] computer.” I discovered that the leaf spring on the brake pedal was not giving the appropriate “brake off” signal to the DPS computer. I did a little adjusting with needle nose pliers, and solved the “limp home” problem.

As David recounts, the limp home mode on his Can Am activated on freeway, in a high speed environment, as a result of misadjusted brake spring generating an error message. Should the ‘limp home’ mode have been activated due to a simple mechanical problem with a brake signal switch? Most would probably argue no. David goes on to say:

I’m not so concerned about complex systems when they are brand new. I’m more concerned about maintainability. What happens to the high-zoot electronic system 5 years down the road, or longer? The owner who has all of his maintenance and repair done at the dealer’s shop will buy a brand that has a nearby dealer, and be clever enough to trade it in as the warrantee expires. But for owners such as myself, who do our own servicing and repair, there is a practical limit to how complex a machine can be.

And then, there is the flip side of the high-technology coin that is not being addressed; specifically, when a simple and low tech approach would work to increase user functionality of a motorcycle, and yet is not used, possibly because it is perceived by motorcycle manufacturers as a “low rent” solution.

From all appearances and reviews, Honda’s new F6B is quite the motorcycle, but in their effort to reduce weight on Wing-bagger, Honda removed the cruise control system. Although certainly not as “high tech” as electronic cruise control, a throttle locking mechanism fulfills most of the functions of a cruise control system, while adding little complexity and virtually no weight. Some enterprising aftermarket motorcycle parts manufacturer is probably already designing a throttle lock system for the new Honda, but how much better would it be for a company with Honda’s engineering credentials to design their own throttle-lock system for their Wing bagger? The idea would also transfer well to lower cost mid-sized tourers and baggers where adding cruise control would increase the price point.

Does anybody remember when cars had windows with crank handles? What about a manually adjustable windshield for motorcycles? Consider that when using an electrically adjustable windshield, the height tends to be set to one of three positions; fully raised when riding on a highway or interstate, just below eye level in normal riding, and fully lowered for sportier riding. While pressing a button to adjust windshield height is certainly a convenience, a small fold-out crank handle for manual adjustment would accomplish the task almost as easily, and allow the same functionality. A scissor-lift mechanism with a center gear to operate a motorcycle-sized windshield could be of very low mass and light weight, and “crank handle” windows have a very long history of reliability in automobiles. Almost any of the current crop of new baggers and scaled-down tourers that use fairings on their bikes, from the previously mentioned F6B to the V-Star 1300 Deluxe and Victory Cross Country series, could incorporate this idea to add a windshield height adjustment feature without adding the extra weight, complexity and cost of an electric motor.

Electronic engine control and ride management for motorcycles is a trend that will indeed continue to develop as the technology is refined, offering unique solutions to increasing safety for the rider and control of a motorcycle, but in order to be of real benefit, it must also be measured by the metric of “best use” functionality to owners and riders. In addition, in the trend towards increasingly high tech capabilities and higher cost, some very good and simple solutions offering increased functionality and value to motorcycle purchasers are often being overlooked. The best choice may be a balance between high tech and low tech approaches.

Drive-By Panhandling – A New Twist on an Old Theme

A few nights ago, I was driving south on Buford Highway in north Atlanta, when I saw a car in the middle land traveling with the emergency flashers on, with the driver making no apparent effort to pull off the road.  At the next traffic light, the car pulls up next to me, and the driver flags me to roll down my window.  I do so, and he asks if I can speak english.  I cautiously say “uh… yes” and he tells me that he is out of gas, and asks if I can I give him a couple of bucks.

So here’s a guy that decided that panhandling on a street corner isn’t profitable enough, and is trying a new tack of driving around town in his car asking people for money.

After politely declining, I got to thinking about how this guy expected to accomplish the transfer of funds – whether those wishing to “donate” would pull over and give him money, or whether they would simply launch quarters through the passenger side window and into his car.

While you have to give the guy points for imagination, he probably needs to work on the finer points of the transaction.

Sixes Road

One day riding and in my travels
I chose a turn then slowed
on a road of asphalt, stone and gravel
the route called Sixes Road

In a roadside ditch a rotted log
holds squirming worm and toad
as wood breaks down to peat and bog
in the damp of Sixes Road

A rusting car and abandoned shack
both steel and stone erode
the lasts of a life from long years back
as I ride on Sixes Road

Miles beyond the road rises to meet me
an old farm and a rooster’s crow
the only voice out here to greet me
as I roll on Sixes Road

The twisted wreck of a flatbed truck
the marks on pavement show
how a tired driver ran out of luck
on the twisting Sixes Road

Returning home I now give voice
to the source of inspiration owed
to an afternoon’s ride and the random choice
of a turn on Sixes Road

© Philip Buonpastore, 1998

The First Perfect Day, May 5th, 2012

In Northwest Washington, late Spring brings the first days of summer-like weather, infrequent and interspersed between days of cool, gray and wet of a winter that hangs on well into mid-year.  When those first days come, I rarely pass on an opportunity to celebrate the beautiful day by taking a ride on the motorcycle.

On a clear day in the Pacific Northwest, you can see forever.

May 5th was just such a day.  A very fine day.  Clear, blue, and sunny, with temperatures in the mid-70s.  Not one to miss when it comes likes a surprise gift.

A bald eagle pair return yearly to their nest north of Alder Dam.

The motorcycle and I found our way to SR7, riding south.  On the left, Mt. Rainier stands alone, a pure white giant in the eastern sky, still without the consistent warmth of July to melt the snow.  The road alternates between easy twists and turns and long straightaways – just enough variation to keep it interesting and fun.  North of Alder Lake and the dam of the same name, a seasonal bald eagle’s nest brings birdwatchers to a roadside pullout.

At the intersection of SR7 and Hwy 12 at the town of Morton, I decide that there is enough time left in the day for a ride up to Mt. St. Helens, and turn west on Highway

 

12 to ride to the national park’s western entrance.  On the way, I pass the DeGoede Bulb Farm and Gardens, whose fields of tulips are in full bloom, and passing cars stop and the families get out to simply walk through the fields and be surrounded by the beauty.  Of course I stop for photographs.

Continuing on, I stop to ask a man in a gas station about a backroad on the map that I have not ridden before, and he directs me to a southwestern turn at Fuller Road, which, via a short stretch on Jackson Highway, leads into the town of Toledo.  In town, I stop at a local sandwich shop for a hoagie and a bottle of water, and take a few photos of the well-known painted street scene, complete with traffic cop, that announces the town as the “Gateway to Mt. St. Helens.”

As I am leaving Toledo on SR505 west, my trip odometer reads 100 miles, and I use the odometer to keep approximate track of the range left in my tank.  The tank should have enough fuel for 40 to 50 miles before I hit the reserve, so I opt to ride up to the mountain without filling the bike.

As I proceed up the mountain and the miles roll up, I decide that it would be a good idea to  fill the tank after all, but the last gas station I pass riding up the mountain is closed.  Oh well, I am on my own.  I figure that the bike will use more gas ascending the mountain, and less on the way down, so I keep riding, and make a few stops for some good photos of the mountain on the way up.

The Honda Aero at Mt. St. Helens

The Honda Aero at Mt. St. Helens, May 5th 2012.

At the entrance of Mt. St. Helens park, I ride into the parking lot to get a pic of the bike by the park’s sign, just for the “official record.”  I realize that I have been riding almost 30 miles, and I know I am getting low on fuel, but debate with myself about riding further into the park.  Good sense wins out, and I start the ride down the mountain, and within a mile, the fuel runs out in the main tank and I go on reserve.  The ride up the mountain had used more fuel than I had anticipated.  Good thing for good sense.

Mt. St. Helens covered with snow.

I make it back to the town of Toledo, refuel the bike and ride home via the interstate.  Back by 7PM, it is the conclusion the first of what I hope to be many stellar rides in the Pacific Northwest, summer, 2012.