I just want to ride my motorcy…..cle.
Jonah and I completed a motorcycle training course last weekend. It was supposed to be the weekend before, but it canceled for snow. The course was good, and I’m glad I took it. There was some boring and not-very-informative classroom work where they showed us little videos and had us answer questions, then take what was maybe the easiest written test ever. But the on-motorcycle instruction was really helpful. The motorcycles used were small and underpowered, but that kept us out of trouble. While we never got over about 25mph, it was still plenty challenging. It was hard to get all your hands and feet to do things they’ve never done before, and balance a moving vehicle all at the same time. There was a 70% chance of snow on Sunday, so we were pretty sure we wouldn’t get to finish the class until next weekend, but fortunately, the snow held off all day.
So yesterday, I took my course completion certificate to the Colorado Department of Revenue to get my motorcycle endorsement. The one I’d been to before had burned down, so I went to the next-closest one. It turns out that one only did license renewals and couldn’t give me an endorsement. So I left and went to the only one in the Springs that did. It took about 30 seconds of waiting for a clerk to call my number. I was astounded at the efficiency, and after she finished, she told me to wait in a chair, and they’d call my name. That took an hour, and then I found out that they couldn’t issue me a title and registration for the bike, because that section of the Dept. of Revenue only did Driver Licenses. Worse, they only gave me a paper temporary! When I moved to CO they issued me a photo ID on the spot, and I was impressed. It seems that the state has regressed. So I had to go back to the place I was just at and get the title and registration. I only had to wait about 20 minutes there, and they gave me the title in license plate on the spot.
I was initially planning on waiting for a weekend to ride the motorcycle home from Denver. There wasn’t enough time before sunset after Jonah gets off work to have her take me up there, and I sure wasn’t going to ride the thing at night on my first time. Or at all if I can help it. 60% of motorcycle accidents are at night.
Then I checked the weather last night and today was forecast for a high of 46F and sunny. I couldn’t ask for a better day.
I drove up to Denver early this afternoon, getting there just before 1pm. I dragged the bike out of the garage, nearly dropping it right after taking it off the center stand. I’m not sure what happened, but it got a little off balance and it took all of my strength to keep it from hitting the pavement. Thankfully I pulled it off: it was going to be really embarrassing if I crashed the thing before I ever rode it!
As I got on it, I was immediately glad at how much bigger it is than the bike I rode over the weekend. (Unfortunately, this may prove to be a problem for Jonah. She can only balance it on her toes, and you really should be able to flat-foot a bike you’re planning on riding.) The bike has been sitting for 3 weeks, so I was bit worried about the battery. I spent awhile getting the transmission in neutral (a task I’ve now finally mastered!) turned on the fuel, set the choke, turned on the ignition key, flipped the stop/run switch to run, and thumbed the starter. It cranked solidly, but after about 10 seconds didn’t catch. Since I was worried about the battery, I figured I’d try to kick start it, since the bike has a kick starter, and I’ve heard that the bike doesn’t like to run at all with a dead battery even with a good alternator. Nothing happened after a dozen kicks. I’m not sure if I was doing it right, since I haven’t read the instruction manual yet, and I’ve never tried to kick-start it before. I thumbed the starter a bit more and it eventually caught. I gave it a little gas, pulled off the choke, and it idled! Success. I was immediately surprised at how good it sounded after riding the annoying little 225cc v-twin Nighthawks. The CB350 has a much more pleasing grumble to it, though the 180 degree timing on an inline twin gives it a strange lope.
I let it warm up, swapped the license plate, and stowed the registration and insurance under the seat. I checked the tire pressures which read about 35 psi. I let some air out until they indicated the placarded 26psi, hoping the cheap little gauge I was using was any good. I checked the brakes, lights, chain, and decided it was good enough for the ride home. I suited up (pants, jacket, helmet, gloves, boots) and put a few things in my backpack with a couple bottles of water. The bike doesn’t have any sort of storage at all. I need to find a good removable luggage solution.
I drove around Neal’s block a few times, stopping at all the stop signs to get a feel for the thing. It handled easily, the controls were all pretty easy to get to. The front brake has too much free play, but I’m pretty sure that’s because the pads are shot. I immediately liked the transmission. Neal said he had a hard time getting it into neutral, but I thought it was a whole lot easier than the annoying Nighthawk I rode this weekend. Once I realized that it didn’t click at all for neutral, that is. It doesn’t require much force to change gears, and they land with a satisfying clunk instead of a pansy click like the Nighthawk.
I decided that there was no point in furthering the inevitable and set off through Denver. I’d decided to take back roads and highways, avoiding the interstate. The downside is that there’s a lot more gravel left on the back roads from the snow plows, there’s more intersections, and more opportunities for death. The upside is that a screw-up at interstate speeds would be ugly, and I needed practice. A mistake on the back roads isn’t likely to be as bad, and the little Honda is happiest around 50-60mph. Traffic on I-25 moves at about 80mph.
After just a few miles, stopping at many traffic lights on a straight shot out of Denver, I started to get comfortable. “This isn’t all that hard,” I thought, “I’ve really been making this out to be way harder than it is.” My sunglasses tended to fog up under my helmet at stops, but it’s simple enough just to lift my visor when I stop. The hardest part seemed to be working the stupid turn signals. Unlike a car, you have to turn them off after you go around a corner, which requires paying attention. Additionally, I had a hard time getting used to the view in the side mirrors, as it’s pretty much impossible to see directly behind you. Fortunately, you don’t have to (and, apparently, shouldn’t) ride in the middle of a lane.
Before long I was on US-85 heading south. I loved the noise and feel of the bike, the smell of the somewhat rich-running exhaust, and the openness of it all. It was a clear day, and the snow-covered Front Range off to my right was beautiful. “Why did I wait so long to do this?” I wondered. After I got out of town, I accelerated a bit more enthusiastically from stops. The bike makes a lot more power above 6,000 rpm than it does down low, and makes quite a glorious screaming noise. I was astounded at just how much fun 36hp could be, and just how fast 45mph could feel. I never got faster than 65mph, and that one excursion seemed so fast that I was sure that relativistic effects would take over, and I would arrive home younger than I should be.
It being the warmest, sunniest day in weeks, the motorcyclists were out in force. Every last one of them waved at me, and I returned the wave. I probably passed 40 motorcyclists, and got a wave from every single one of them. This was a bit astounding. I’ve driven Miatas for years, and in the early days, I’d say I got wave-return rate from other Miatas of close to 75%; it’s probably dropped to less than 50% these days. I was also a bit worried, “Don’t they know I’m not a real motorcyclist?” I felt like an impostor. I mean, I know, I’m wearing all the clothes and I’m riding a motorcycle, but am I really a member of the club? Couldn’t they tell that I wasn’t quite sure how to sit on the bike, that I kept riding the rear brake while trying to find a comfortable place for my right boot, and that most of my gear changes were pretty sloppy? “I’m just hoping to make it home alive, and they want me to join a fraternity!”
I stopped at a gas station in Sedalia. I was pretty sure that I didn’t need any gas, but I could use the stop anyway. I needed to pee and could use a drink of water. I wasn’t in a hurry. I pulled up to the right side of a gas pump like I would in my car. I realized after I’d climbed off the bike that was very much the wrong side to be on. The side-stand is on the left, which means the handlebars turn that way, making the right side of the tank easier to get to, plus the gas cap is slightly on the right side. I hoped no motorcyclists were driving by laughing at me. It’s not like it was hard to fill it from that side, just would have been easier on the other.
The trip meter read 36 miles from when Neal had reset it. 30 of those miles were mine. I was able to fit all of 0.75 gallons in the tank. It’s a 2.5 gallon tank. That means it probably gets 40-50 miles per gallon, which sounds impressive, but is at best only a 125 mile range. In any case, I now had a reasonable guesstimate of the mileage and didn’t have to worry about running out on the way home. And since I’d bought gas (all of $2.00 worth), I felt entitled to use the bathroom. I did, and then came back outside and called Jonah to let her know I was almost halfway and doing fine.
Back on the road, the rest of the trip was enjoyable and I got more comfortable with bike as I got closer to home. I still don’t feel like I belong on it, but I managed to get home without doing anything too bad. The worst was the stop sign where I stopped and then realized that I hadn’t downshifted while slowing down. The sequential transmission on a motorcycle is very hard to get into first once the bike is stopped and in 5th gear. It took me about 10 seconds of slipping the clutch and rocking the bike, while a woman in a minivan at the four-way stop looked a bit annoyed that I wasn’t going. I would have waved her by, but I was using all my appendages for other things. I finally got it going about the time she started going, so I just crept along waiting for her to go in front of me, but then she waved me by. “See, I’m not *always* invisible!” I thought.
Every car that pulled up to a stop sign or traffic signal on an intersecting street was a potential lethal hazard. Most of the time I had a plan of escape in mind, but there’s always an instant when you’re too close to be able to do much, and if you’re invisible, there’s not a lot of choices.
I actually felt an amazing sense of freedom being out in the world, relatively unprotected. I was weird to be able to put both feet on the ground at a stop light, even stand up if I wanted to. Examine the texture of the pavement up close, be able to shake hands with pedestrians if I wanted to. I thought I would be mostly scared of the other cars, but at stop lights, I kept thinking, “Suckers.” Motorcyclists often refer to cars as “cages” and I’ve always thought that a bit extreme until today, when it suddenly slid into context. I’ve driven a top-down car for over a decade, and it’s a similar feeling of freedom, but there’s still a protective bubble that’s totally missing on a motorcycle.
I got it home and verified that there’s enough room in the covered parking to fit it in front of a Miata. I like it when my life fits together.
Tomorrow: I take it apart. I’ve got a clutch cable, speedometer cable, tachometer cable, and front brake pads sitting on my desk ready to be installed. That’s my goal for tomorrow. I need to pull the carburetors apart and clean them, as well, but I’m not sure if I’ll get to that tomorrow. Stay tuned!