Feeling Rusty

Jay and I have not had a chance to ride our motorcycles much this year partly due to the roll we played in helping plan the 2012 Maryland/Delaware State HOG Rally. Most of our weekends were filled with trips and meetings that didn’t work with our idea of motorcycling. So we spent many hours in the Toyota Corola. After driving 2000+ miles in the Toyota scouting out ride routes and destinations for Maryland HOG Rally participants to enjoy we were eager to actually get a chance to ride some of these roads on two wheels.  Pretty much the only motorcycling we’ve done all year was our trip to the Outer Banks over Spring Break.  So after the Maryland/Delaware State HOG rally concluded, we planned a four-day trip that would take us back to Deep Creek and into five states and encompass events from the 4th of July through our 5th wedding anniversary on July 7th. 

ready to ride

We would take in the “Fire on the Mountain” fireworks display as Wisp Resort in Deep Creek Lake Maryland (host site of the rally), visit Seneca Rocks in West Virginia, see the Green Bank Telescope and take a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and explore Skyline Drive along the way back home.  It was a rather ambitious plan (if not aggressive)…especially for a week of 95-100 degree temperatures.  But we were aware of the risks and managed them appropriately.

seneca rocks

green bank telescope

The part of the trip that I did not anticipate was just how nervous I would get after the second day.  We were cruising along WV-32 and US-33 between Blackwater Falls and Seneca Rocks when we came upon a couple of 15-mph downhill 12% grade hairpin turns.  I have very little experience riding in mountains like these, but what I do know is that “when riding in West Virginia, if it says 15-mph, then you needs to slow to 15-mph!”  …so I did.  This required downshifting, braking, and then downshifting some more so that I could get to the perfect entry speed.  To say that I did not feel comfortable on these turns (particularly with the “locals” in monster pick up trucks barrelling down on my ass) would be an extreme understatement.  Teetering on the edge of control just as I was teetering on the edge of a cliff is probably more like it!

I knew that I would be rusty because of the very few miles I’ve ridden this year, so this was not exactly a huge revelation.  But what I did not expect was just how much this would freak me out later.

That night I awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat (which was pretty difficult considering it took four hours for the AC unit in our motel room to knock the temperature down to below 80).  I tossed and turned for hours with this horrible feeling like a rock in the pit of my stomach.  All I could think of was the extreme curves on the map as we were to enter unfamiliar territory and ride across US-250 from Green Bank, WV to Staunton, VA the next day.

Below is only a 3-mile sample of the road we spent nearly 2 hours riding!

4 mile stretch of road US-250

It occurred to me that this was what Jay must feel like when he worries that something might happen to me.  Well, I was sure that he was already worried enough, so I decided not to share my nervousness with him until after it was over.  (After all, we were in Cass, WV.  We had no choice.  The only way out was to cross a mountain range or two!)

So in the morning, off we went.  It was actually a bit brisk when we left, but by lunch time it had climbed well into the 90s again!  The cool temperatures had a way of calming my fears as we hit the road.  After about 40 minutes we arrived at the first mountain peak.  We climbed a dozen switchbacks in succession, and as we approached the summit I actually announced on the CB radio “I could do that all day!”  Then we started going downhill…

I felt like an amateur in a professional’s arena.  I was in the lead this time, so the cages were on Jay’s ass, not mine (thank God).  I felt like I was in way over my head.  But yet, I knew in my head that I really wasn’t.  I know how to to this.  I may not get much practice from riding all the long, straight, flat roads in Delaware, but I do have the knowledge.  Outside-inside-outside.  Slow to the appropriate entry speed then throttle through the turn.  Don’t brake while leaning!  I was going so slow sometimes Jay thought my bike would fall over.  But I knew my bike was stable, and I wasn’t going to fall off any cliffs! 

hairpin turn US-250

By the fourth mountain peak (yes, I counted them) I was starting to get a bit more comfortable looking all the way through the turns.  I still like going uphill way better than downhill, but my anxiety attack proved to be groundless.

Lessons learned: (1) Don’t go ride in West Virginia when you are rusty, and (2) Even seasoned riders with tens of thousands of miles under their belt can get rusty!

Annual Rite of Spring

Each year in the northern Delaware area, the Motorcycle Accident Victims Foundation’s Saint Patty’s Day Poker Run marks the traditional kick-off of the motorcycle riding season.  With the mild winter we had this year there wasn’t much of an “off” season, but that didn’t make this annual rite of spring any less monumental.  The event was actually held this year on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, and kicked off at the Rommel Harley-Davidson dealership in New Castle, DE.

MAV St Patty 1 

The weather was fabulous for a mid-March day – sunny with temperatures rising into the low 70’s by late afternoon.  It was a perfect day to ride…and for me it was my first opportunity to take the handlebars since Labor Day.  It’s totally pathetic, I know, but work has been kicking my butt all school year.  Even my weekends have been spent doing hours of grading and catching up on some much needed sleep.  Getting my knees back in the breeze was nothing short of spectacular!

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MAV St Patty 8 

The poker run route planned by M.A.V. led me down scenic Rt-9 though marshland past Augustine Beach and along remote Rt-15 below the canal.  There were stops at Rommel H-D in Smyrna and 301 Cycle in Middletown, with the final card draw at Just Mugs on US-40 in Bear.  Participants enjoyed free food, 50/50, door prizes, and of course camaraderie with fellow riders.  More than 200 participants on all makes and models of bikes enjoyed a fantastic day. 

MAV St Patty 4

MAV St Patty 7 

Special thanks go out to Vee Marshall and Spunk Amoroso (M.A.V. President and Vice President respectively) and all of the volunteers that made the event possible.  The greatest benefit of the day was all of the money that was raised to help M.A.V. continue their work in the motorcycle community. 

 MAV St Patty 5  MAV St Patty 6

Founded in 1994 by members of First State HOG Chapter, M.A.V. helps motorcyclists injured in an accident through no fault of their own.  They provide monetary assistance to make sure that the injured’s bills are paid and their families have food on the table while the rider is medically unable to work and waiting for the courts and insurance companies to work out a settlement.  For more information about M.A.V. (or to make a donation), log on to www.motorcycleaccidentvictims.org.  You can also donate through your United Way campaign at work like I do – use pledge number 9615.

As for me, my poker hand was less than stellar, I didn’t win any door prizes or the 50/50, and I spent money I didn’t really have at the dealership…but I enjoyed a wonderful day on two wheels with my favoritest guy in the world, and helped out a very worthy cause at the same time.  So overall it was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time!  I am looking forward to many more days with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face over the rest of the riding season!

Mrs RC - 2011 in the rearview mirror

As with most years, 2011 was filled with some joys & celebrations and some disappointments. My plan to ride, ride, and ride some more fell way short of fruition.  I started the year by outfitting my bike for travel by mounting a set of saddlebags and getting some additional tailbag luggage.  This tripled my storage space, and made it really convenient when I did have the opportunity to travel. 

New Saddlebags

I rode to Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, MD, and I led small groups from First State HOG Chapter on overnighters to Virginia Beach for the Bridge-Tunnel Ride, Williamsport MD, Gettysburg Bike Week, and Tilghman Island.  But my plans to visit Maggie Valley and Pigeon Forge and to ride Skyline Drive did not pan out.  I hope my luggage set-up gets used way more in 2012! Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Williamsport Trip

Jay and I took a vacation to Jamaica over Spring Break, so that ate up what would have been a good week of riding as well as a huge chunk of our travel budget!  I’m not complaining…relaxing by the pool, sailing the ocean, and climbing Dunn’s River Falls were well worth it!

Poolside Jamaica

Jay and Di in Jamaica

Jamaica Resort View

Dunns River Falls

There were many other factors that contributed to my abbreviated riding activity – work, family obligations, work, weather, chapter obligations, work, and catching up on sleep to name a few…  I had planned to increase my typical riding by 50% this past year, but in actuality it decreased by about that amount.  Sad (and embarrassing) as it is to say, I only put 5K miles on my Harley in 2011.

Don’t get me wrong, the year was not a total loss.  I had the opportunity to visit Barber’s Vintage Motorsports Museum in Alabama – an amazing sight that every motorcyclist should see at some point! 

 Barber Vintage Motor Sports Museum 1

Barber Vintage Motor Sports Museum 2

I traveled to Canton, Ohio, for my regional HOG rally committee training, and visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame while I was there! 

 NFL Hall of Fame_Baltimore Colts Band

NFL Hall of Fame_Lombardi Trophy

I finally got to visit Fallingwater – the Frank Lloyd Wright house built overhanging a waterfall in southwestern PA!  (I’ve wanted to see it for like 30 years!)

Fallingwater_Frank Lloyd Wright design

The best part of 2011 has to be the recognition by my fellow chapter members for all of the hard work and efforts I put in to helping make First State HOG a successful enterprise.  As the photographer, newsletter editor, merchandise officer, volunteer coordinator, and a road captain (and those are just my official titles), I spend a lot of time and effort working for the good of the chapter.  I was recognized for these efforts by being voted by the membership as HOG of the Year!  I am truly honored.

HOG of the Year

Looking forward to 2012 – I am on a mission to make up for lost time last year.  I am a member of the Maryland/Delaware state HOG Rally committee for this year’s rally which is to be held in Deep Creek Lake in June.  I’ll be taking as many trips back & forth to that destination as possible as we explore roads and businesses in the area to set up a hugely successful rally for you to enjoy. 

Savage River Rd_Deep Creek MD

Muddy Creek Falls_Deep Creek MD

Jay and I have plans to attend two other state HOG rallies as well – the Pennsylvania Rally in State College, and the New Hampshire/Vermont Rally on the Kancamangus Highway.  Each of these trips will be at least 3-4 full days of riding - woo hoo!  Spring Break week is wide open for motoring here, there, and anywhere.  Who knows, maybe I will even get to Skyline Drive & Maggie Valley!

I am looking forward to my 5th wedding anniversary and a year with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair! Whatever happened (or didn’t happen) last year is now in the rear view mirror and my sights are set on riding more in 2012! 

Squishables

Animals in the roadway are certainly an interesting hazard to motorcyclists.  A friend of mine actually had a vulture pick up its lunch from the roadway, fly it across a lane of traffic, and then drop it on the pavement right in front of her!  And then there was the time she used her foot to point out some roadkill, which turned out to still be alive!

These situations happen to motorcyclists all of the time, though I have not found very much specific information on what to do when it happens to you.  The Delaware Motorcycle Operator Handbook reads:

“Naturally, you should do everything you safely can to avoid hitting an animal.  If you are in traffic, however, remain in your lane.  Hitting something small is less dangerous to you than hitting something big - like a car.

Motorcycles seem to attract dogs.  If you are chased, dowshift and approach the animal slowly.  As you approach it, accelerate away and leave the animal behind.  Don’t kick at an animal.  Keep control of your motorcycle & look to where you want to go.

For larger animals (deer, elk, cattle) brake and prepare to stop - they are unpredictable.”

Period.  That’s literally it.  Now seriously, how helpful is that?

Back in the day when I took my Basic Rider Course there was a class segment devoted to this topic as well.  I will never forget what my lead instructor said regarding the matter:

“When it comes to animals in the roadway, there are the Squishables and the Non-Squishables!”

OK, once again…WTF does that mean???  I mean obviously a caterpillar qualifies as a Squishable and a moose would be Non-Squishable, what what about the in-betweens like squirrels and groundhogs?

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I came across a turtle in the road the other day and started wondering if the poor little critter would qualify as Squishable or not?  I mean, he was pretty small…but then with the hard shell I don’t know that he would actually “squish” as it were. 

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What about a bunny rabbit?  How about a fox? 

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Where do we draw the line between the Squishables and the Non-Squishables?  What do you think?  Have you had any experiences with any of these creatures?  What’s the biggest thing you’ve run over?  Was it successful, or did it tear up your bike or cause you to crash?  Do you have any funny stories about critters in the roadway? 

Please share your experiences with Squishables and Non-Squishables by commenting below…

Dyna Saddlebag Project - Part 2 Bag & Bracket Installation

Princess Di’s New Ride

Once I had come to grips with relocating my turn signals I set to work deciding on the saddlebags themselves.  I was looking for as much space as possible without looking big & bulky, in a bag that would fit a Dyna - something that would neatly blend with the lines of my bike.  Throw-over styles were not an option because one of my primary objectives is to open up my rear fender and allow it and its lovely rack to be seen for their beauty, so covering it back up with a cheesy slab of leather would defeat the entire purpose.  My Mustang seat (as well as my chaps) have a simple braided trim, which I would’ve liked to duplicate if possible.  I did not want lots of studs, conchos, and other gaudy trim items.  I didn’t really know ahead of time, but as I researched I determined that I really like the slanted styles as opposed to the big boxy-looking straight ones (which turned out to be a good thing because of the exposed shocks on my Super Glide).  I definitely did not like anything I saw with bold harsh lines to it, preferring smooth curves instead.  I settled on the Revolution Swooped Hard-Mount Saddlebags by Willie & Max in synthetic leather (item code 03436).

Willie & Max Revolution Saddlebags

Although I intend that the bags will remain on my bike nearly 100% of the time, I decided that it would be worth the expense to invest in quick-detach mounts that would make it easy to remove the bags for bike cleaning (as if that ever happens), or to take all of my luggage into a hotel room instead of pulling everything out and carrying it individually.  I decided on the Easy Bracket for my bags.  I am also still considering getting an Easy Tote carrying handle and/or some type of saddlebag liner tote.

When my saddlebags arrived, I almost cancelled the order for the Easy Brackets because of the shape of the back side of the bag.  Since it is not flat, the Easy Bracket would likely need some kind of alteration in order to fit.  And the top of the bag overlaps the side a bit, so I wondered where & how the key-lock mechanism would fit & work.  I was unable to get any information on the exact (or even approximate) dimensions of said bracket, so I have had to judge from photos of them attached to bags.  Long story short - I decided to toss it in the air and see if it would fly.

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Jay had been extremely worried about the docking posts not fitting into the threads left behind by the bolt that originally attached the turn signal.  I wasn’t sure what the heck he was talking about, but he was absolutely correct.  It is not that the posts don’t fit into the threads, there are no threads at all!  Since the bolts originally holding on the turn signals were mounted from inside to outside, there is no need for threading on the inside of the fender strut.  We needed to purchase the docking hardware kit for detachable accessories (part # 53961-06) in order to replace the rear fender mounting bracket with one that is threaded.  (The picture below shows a side-by-side comparison of the old piece and the new one.  If you look closely you can see that the new one is threaded inside while the old one is not.)

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As a temporary hold while we waited for my Easy Brackets to arrive, we used the rest of the kit to bolt the fender strut back on.  (Note: the kit only comes with two bolts, although you need two for each side.  How Harley-Davidson expects you to attach this stuff with only two bolts I have absolutely no idea!  We used leftover parts from an old kit to finish the job.)

Harley-Davidson docking hardware for Detachable sissy bar

Once my actual brackets finally arrived, we set to work installing them.  Then we quickly realized that we really hadn’t needed the docking hardware kit because the rear bolt doesn’t need anything to thread to.  It just slides through the hole in the same manner as the turn signal bolt did and is held in place with a nylon lock nut on the inside.  Having already installed the replacement (threaded) inner bracket we were worried that we’d have to take it back off again, but the rear bolt for the Easy Bracket is only 5/16″ so it slid right through the 3/8″ threading and installed perfectly.  Altogether this step took about 15 minutes of pondering and about 5 minutes of actual work to complete…it is as easy as changing out 4 light bulbs.

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Easy Brackets

The brackets slid on easily, but were not so “easy” to remove.  They are machined so perfectly to exact specs that they are actually a very snug fit.  We couldn’t get them back off without banging on the bottom edge.  Not really wanting to have to bang on my saddlebags once they were installed, Jay ground out the edges of the holes just about 1/32″ for a little better ease of removal.

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Remember I said the back of the bags were not flat?  Well Jay came up with another ingenious idea to combat that problem.  He took some 3/4″ plywood and cut them out to the shape of the back of the bag, then he carefully routed out the curves from the “saddlebag side” of the board.  This created a new flat surface for mounting the brackets and also gave the bags themselves more rigid support.  We painted and lacquered the wooden forms before assembling everything.

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As anyone who has ever mounted saddlebags can probably attest to, positioning them properly is probably the most nerve-wracking, if not difficult, part of the job.  The saddlebags need to be aligned vertically, horizontally, rotationally, and in coordination with each other - all at the same time as being sure to clear the shocks, pipes, axle, swing arm, belt drive, and just about anything else you can imagine!  Once you actually get it aligned where you want, marking the bracket is pretty difficult too…since you have to reach around and get the pen in between the fender and the bag then make a mark without messing up any of your alignments!  This was also very awkward due to the fact that the bike was sitting on an angle on its kickstand.

Once we made the initial marks, we laid the bags out side-by-side and compared measurements, tweeked the positions a little, then re-drew a nice solid border around the easy brackets and marked the positions of the holes to be drilled.

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After drilling out the holes, we temporarily bolted the brackets to just the wooden forms so we could easily re-check the alignment on the bike.  We actually even hung the bags over the wooden forms to see how they would look all together.

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Mounting everything together required longer bolts than the ones that came with the kit, so we made a trip to the hardware store to get them.  While we were there we also picked up some stick-on rubber forms that we used to fill in some of the uneven spaces between the wood & the back of the saddlebag.  We drilled holes in the round ones and used them similar to a washer to absorb some of the vibration and make it a more structurally sound mount where the bolts went through.  Then we used the long strips around some of the edges for a nice snug fit.

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Easy Bracket Attached to Willie & Max Revolution Saddlebag

The last step was certainly the easiest.  Once everything was mounted where it needed to be, all that was left to do was slip the keyhole slots of the Easy Bracket over the mounting posts on the fender strut and drop the saddlebag into place.  This went off without a hitch…I totally understand how they got their name!  Reaching the key to engage the lock mechanism was less of a challenge than expected  because our wood plates filled in a lot of the saddlebag top “overhang” creating much better clearance for the key.

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Here’s the final product.  Now I am completely ready to “Go Places” this riding season.  I removed my tail bag and doubled my storage space at the same time (and I still have the option to use the luggage rack for more space if needed).  I rediscovered my bike’s sleek lines by opening up the back fender, and kept the minimalist look.  What do you think?

Dyna with Saddlebags

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Fat Rear End

Dyna Saddlebag Project - Part 1 Signal Relocation

 Princess Diana’s Dyna

After designating 2011 as the year “First State is Going Places” and then packing for my first two overnighters of the year with Jay, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot fight it off any longer…adding saddlebags to my Dyna Super Glide is no longer optional.  I ride a cruiser because I want to ride a cruiser, not a bagger.  The stripped down, no frills, “pure machine” look was one of the things that attracted me to the Dyna Super Glide in the first place.  I like the sleek lines of my bike with the solo seat and fender rack that just blends perfectly into the layback license plate.  I did not want saddlebags anywhere near my bike.  Unfortunately I am forced to keep a tailbag on that fender rack 24-7-365 just to have a place to hold my wallet and sunscreen (not to mention rain gear, spare gloves, camera, ride paperwork & maps…and forget about toiletries and a change of clothing for overnight trips)!  Well, the hard decisions have been made, and Jay will no longer be my “pack mule.”

Pack Mule

Being a total novice in the area of saddlebags, I did a LOT of research on the topic.  I found that real leather will generally last longer than synthetic, though it is not typically waterproof.  I found that bags can be hard-mounted or throwover styles, and that you can also get brackets for quick-detaching of hard-mount bags.  I found that bags come in every shape, size, and style you can imagine…unless you are looking for something very specific (and then you have your work cut out for you, or you may have to compromise somewhere).  I found that there are no two ways about it, Dynas are required to relocate their rear turn signals off of the fender strut in order to be able to install any kind of rigid-mount bag.

The turn signal relocation was a major sticking point in this project.  I already have a layback license plate that I completely love and did not want to replace it with the layback plate kit for signal relocation.  Jay has this product on his bike, and although it looks fine the angles of it just would not match or blend with my luggage rack the way my current plate frame does.  There is supposedly an option to extend the turn signals farther back along the fender (basically by extending the strut longer), but I could not find any information that indicated just how far back it would push the signal and feared that it would still interfere with opening the lid on the saddlebag anyway.  Besides, despite the fact that the parts counter guy swears the part does exist to fit my 2008 Super Glide, I found no evidence that such a part had been made for Dyna models prior to 2009.  So I purchased the kit that mounts to a standard license plate bracket (part # 68732-02A), and made plans to finagle a way for it to work with my current set up.

Installation:

 Signal Bar

Mounting the light bar to my current license plate frame was a challenge because there is not a kit designed for such an attachment, so we had to do a little “customization”.  Actually Jay had a brilliant idea to drill two holes in the fender and stick the connecting bolts through - attaching it directly to the fender instead of the license plate frame.  (Thank goodness he did this while I was sleeping, or I might have had a heart attack!)  We also determined that with the really tight fit it would be a good idea to drill another hole on the right side of the license plate mount for the wires to run through.  This was very careful work - starting by drilling a small hole then making it larger and larger to the desired size.  We also inserted rubber grommets into the holes for a “professional” finished look (and to help keep the wires from cutting against the sharp edge of the holes).

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Once the removal and “fabrication” part of the work was done, we set to work actually moving the lights.  First the turn signals needed to be removed and disassembled.  The wires needed to be fed through the threaded hole in the signal, then through the signal bar, and out the small hole on the back of the bar.  The light bulbs & casings could then be reassembled and screwed loosely onto the ends of the light bar.  Shrink tubing was used on the wires before connecting the assembly to the bike and threading the wires through the fender.

Turn Signal Relocation

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Finally, with the turn signal wires pulled back through the brake light housing, we needed to splice the connectors back onto the ends.  This was a very difficult job for Jay when he did his signal relocation, but it turned out to be not so bad this time around.  (Maybe it just needed a woman’s softer touch to do the crimping.)  Of course there was the very stressful moment when we turned the key and checked to see if all of the lights worked.  Both of us held our breath for a moment, then…pay dirt!  WooHOO, I can breathe again!

splicing wires

The final stage of this process was to reassemble everything we had taken apart.  The signals needed to be aligned and tightened - no problem.  The license plate bracket and CB antenna needed to be remounted - no problem.  And the plate itself along with its decorative frame needed to be installed - problem!  The newly customized location of the light bar partially blocks the bottom two holes for the frame.  Perhaps a shorter bolt with a really thin nut might do the trick?  Or maybe we’ll be able to find some decorative “stick on” kind of fake bolts?  For now though, it ain’t going anywhere so it’ll do.

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Yay, stage 1 complete!  Next up: Installing the Saddlebags