Oct 21
Car tire on the bike.

My motorcycle sitting at work with the new car tire.

The tire is on the bike, and I’m officially on the dark-side now. I rode it home last night and to work this morning. I also had to make an extra run back to my house, then back to work. That makes less than 10 miles of experience so far, so obviously the jury is a long way out. But I do want to record my first impressions. It will be interesting to come back and read them after a few thousand miles.
Leaving my friends house last night was an eye opener. I thought I was ready for the difference in the ride, but I still found myself surprised. I expected the tendency to track toward the ditch on a road with excessive crown. I have no doubt I will get used to that and eventually not even notice. I also expected to have to hold it all the way through a turn. Also something I expect to adapt to.
I didn’t expect that sharp turns would be so similar to the MC tire. More precisely, I didn’t expect the break over that comes as you turn harder. You have to push harder into a turn up to a point where it suddenly gets easier. This probably happens as the tire comes off of the flat and rolls onto the edge. What ever the reason, you have to be careful to not over steer as the bike seems to suddenly jump in the direction you are going. This will take a little more getting used to than simply pushing harder.
Once on the way home last night, it felt very much like it was fishtailing as I came through some bad pavement in a construction zone. I just figured that the tire had fallen into a groove and jumped around more than I was accustomed to. But on the way home this morning I again experienced the fishtail sensation. This time the road was fairly good. There was a bad hump that I usually go around approaching an intersection. That was were I felt the fishtail. Then I realized what was happening. Both times the fishtail happened as I made a quick jog around something. Basically a short S turn. What I’m feeling is the tire rolling off of one edge onto the flat, then up on the other edge, and finally back onto the flat. I know in my head this is not dangerous, but it intuitively feels so much like the back tire squirming, that it will take some getting used to.
I’m far from discouraged. I am in fact still very excited about the tire. But any change takes some getting used to. Stay tuned for further progress reports.

- Guy Wheatley

Oct 20

My first dark-side tire.

The car tire I ordered for my Valkyrie came in Last Friday. Other projects kept me from being able to put it on until Sunday evening. A friend with more experience, tools, and confidence offered to help me put it on so I hauled everything to his house Sunday night.
I was looking forward to riding it to work Monday morning and starting to get used to having a car tire on my motorcycle. I figure it’ll take two to three hours.
Sunday night:
I’ve been reading about the procedure for changing the back tire. I’m glad I have my friend’s help because I had planned to remove a bunch of stuff we don’t need to, and hadn’t planned to remove some stuff we do.
I’ve taken tires off motorcycles before, but they were either belt or chain drive. This one is a shaft drive machine and requires a little finessing. I thought we’d be finished in the time it takes us to get the tire off. Now we find we can’t break the bead with our little Harbor Freight Bead breaker. My friend says he can get to a tire machine Monday, so we call it quits for the night.
Monday night:
I show up at my friends house and find the car tire mounted on the rim. It looks great. I’m sure I’ll be riding it home this evening.
There is a procedure called the “Nut cage mod” that the guys on the bike forum all say you have to do when mounting a car tire. I’ve convinced myself I can get by without it, but now with the tire actually on the rim, I see that it will be necessary. Fortunately, my friend’s well-appointed shop includes enough spare nuts, bolts and screws that we can find what I need. At least I won’t have to wait until the next day for a trip to the hardware store to finish. We climb under the bike as it sits precariously on the motorcycle lift and take the grinder to both nut cages. This turns out to be a little more time consuming than I’d expected. What a surprise. Eventually however, we finish the mod and there is room for the wider tire.
Now we start wrestling the tire back onto the bike. That extra 35 millimeters of width may not sound like much, but it makes a big difference in getting the tire back on. We call the wives out to help steady the motorcycle on the lift while we wrestle with the tire. That too takes longer than expected, but we finally get it in place, but now we’re stuck. We had to remove the pipes all the way to the headers. Reinstalling the pipes will require new crush washers, which will only be available at the dealership Tuesday morning.
We call it a night.
Tuesday Night:
My wife asks if she needs to go tonight. She’s tired and wants to get in bed early. I assure her we’re almost done and it won’t take long. She’ll need to drive the truck back home because I’ll be on the bike.
We decide to clean the pipes before putting them back on. It will be easier to get at them while they’re off the bike. We clean them up and start mounting them back. They are aftermarket six into six pipes and were probably difficult to fit when new. Now, after years of exhaust heat, they’ve bowed some and the holes don’t line up with the mounting brackets. We eventually give up and drill one of the holes out. After hours of grunting, sweating, pounding and drilling, we’ve got all six of the nuts on both sides of the headers, both of the mounting bolts on one side and one on the other side. It’s getting late, but I can see the finish line. I just need to tighten up the headers, evenly, to pull the pipes into place and let the crush washers seal the joint. Even tightening is the key here. First, snug one nut, then another, then another until they are all snug, then go back and hit each one again, making sure the pipes are going in evenly. Repeat this several times until all nuts are sufficiently tight.
I can’t reach some of the nuts. I need a deep socket 10 mm socket. All I have is a shallow socket. I bang knuckles for a while, but eventually realize I’ll just have to wait until I can get the right socket. I call it a night.
Wednesday Morning:
As I sit here writing this, I have, at best, a vain hope of finishing tonight. All I have to do is tighten up 12 nuts and 4 bolts, already in place. How many days will it take I wonder.
Keep an eye on this space. I’ll post a notice in the happy day I ride victoriously out of my friend’s garage.

- Guy Wheatley

Oct 15

My iPhone as MP3-player and GPS navigator.

I’ve taken to calling my most recent GPS navigator a Nag-a-vator.
Because it is an application running on my iPhone, I don’t just turn down the volume. I need to keep the sound turned up for iTunes, and phone calls. But that means I’ve also got to listen to my navigator’s griping and complaining. It warns when you exceed the speed limit. Not that I ever do, of course, but if I did, I’m sure I’d get tired of the incessant “caution, caution, caution.”
I like to program in the destination for several reasons, even when I don’t follow directions. If I do get truly lost, it’s nice to have the destination preprogramed in to help me find the way. It’s also an easy way to keep track of the remaining miles and ETA. But often, I’ll take a smaller more scenic route rather than follow the larger and faster roads the unit is recommending. Then the contest of wills begins. I know it’s just a machine, but I think it must get angry with me because I don’t follow instructions.
“Please turn around at the first opportunity,” it insists while flashing a red, hook-shaped arrow on the screen. Eventually it will give up and accept the fact that I’m not going to turn around. But that doesn’t mean the battle is over, especially if I’m on a road that parallels the route the Nag-a-vator wants to use.
“Turn right in two miles,” it will say and I realize it’s trying to get me back to the road it wants me to use. As I bust past the turning point it again pleads with me to turn around. Eventually it will give up and I hear, “Recalculating,” in a female voice that sounds petulant to me. I’ve never actually seen it display a hand on the screen with the middle finger extended, but I think it does sometimes when I’m not looking.
It was enough of a hassle that I finally got into the settings and muted the application. I no longer have to listen to it, and I find it much easier to ignore the screen when I decide to go my own way. If I could just find that setting on some people.
A woman who was with us on a ride before I shut the Nag-a-vator up commented that men never listen to women’s directions, but were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for an electronic device that would do the same thing. Usually in a female voice. I pointed out that our electronic devices have off buttons.

- Guy Wheatley

Oct 12
A 250cc starter bike and a 1500cc cruiser.

My wife and son’s 250cc Diamo starter bike parked in front of my
1500cc Victory Deluxe Touring Cruiser.

I recently reconnected with a friend of the family I haven’t seen in more years than either of us care to total up. She mentioned she and her husband were thinking of buying a motorcycle and asked me if I had any advice. As I said, it’s been a few years, so her naïve question about whether I have advice is understandable.
The first piece of advice I will give is that if you’re a boomer who hasn’t been riding since you were in high school, think of yourself as a beginner. Both motorcycles and your body have changed considerably in the intervening decades. If you’re a beginner, don’t run out and buy that monster cruiser that caught your eye and made you decide you wanted to ride motorcycles. You want a starter bike to learn on for several reasons.
The least important of those reasons is that there is a good likelihood that you’ll drop your bike, or run into something. A small bike will cause less damage to other things it hits. But you also will prefer those scratches to go on a smaller, less expensive bike. More importantly those big expensive cruisers are harder to ride, especially for a new rider.
My next advice flies a little bit in opposition to conventional wisdom. Most bikers will direct a new rider toward 250cc or smaller bike. That is what I started with four years ago when I got back on a motorcycle after several decades. It was an inline twin that was fairly sporty for a 250. It was goosey and demanded careful clutch work. In retrospect, not an ideal bike to learn on. Fortunately I grew up with manual transmissions and was able to quickly come to terms with the demands this little machine made.
Since then I’ve helped my wife and son learn to ride. The bike we selected for them was a 250 V-twin. It was geared a little lower and handles more like a mini cruiser. The clutch was more forgiving than the inline bike I’d used, but it still demanded careful clutch and throttle coordination. Neither my wife nor son had driven vehicles with manual transmissions, and they both had more difficulty learning to use a clutch.
The little 250s were adequate for buzzing around town, but they didn’t belong out on the highway for extended rides at speed. They really couldn’t keep up with the cruisers on an all-day run of 200 or more miles. So the question then is, do you jump from the 250 directly to the full-size cruiser you really want, or do you take an intermediate step first?
That’s a rhetorical question actually. Nobody is ready for a Goldwing, Vision or Ultra Classic based on the experience they got from a 250. So now you’re looking for something in the 600cc range. Two bikes just to learn to ride. Surely there must be a better way. I think there is.
The first motorcycle my son bought after learning to ride on my wife’s 250 was a one-cylinder 650. It was a small bike, about the same size and weight as the 250. Of course it had more power so one might reasonably expect it to be more demanding than the 250. But it wasn’t. It was actually much easier to ride than the 250. It was less prone to simply jump and die if you didn’t coordinate the throttle with the clutch. In fact, you didn’t really have to worry about the throttle. Just ease off the clutch until you started gently rolling, then give it a little gas to pick up speed. The one-cylinder design gives this engine a lot of torque at low rpm so that you don’t have to rev the engine to get moving. It results in a much smother start, and makes the bike even less likely to jump out from under a new rider.
Once you develop a little more confidence, you can head out on the highway with the big dogs and keep up without straining your engine. Finally, when you decide to move up to the big cruiser, you’re already accustomed to a bike with more power than a 250.
So what you have with a one-cylinder bike in the 500 to 700 cc range is a machine that is easier to learn to ride, serves your needs longer being able to cruise and better prepares you for a larger machine if you want it. If you’re looking in the used market, and you should be for a starter bike, the additional cost will probably be less than $1,000. Possibly much less.
My advice, get a thumper.

- Guy Wheatley

Oct 6

A 1-and-a-half minute video from the Talihina Scenic drive.
Watch for the squirrel 48 seconds into the video.
He survived.

I rode the Talimena Scenic drive recently. This is a 53-mile mountainous road between Talihina, Okla., and Mena, Ark. This is one of those roads made for motorcycles. This road was the reason we were camping at Queen Wilhelmena State Park. I ran the 13-mile stretch from the lodge atop Rich Mountain back into Mena six times while we were there. I only made the longer 40-mile run from the lodge to Talihina twice. Once going east to west, then going west to east. Our original plan was to leave our campsite at the park, then make the run before heading home to Texarkana through Oklahoma from Talihina. But sitting in Talihina, we decided we had to make the run at least one more time. That meant going home, back through Mena.
I was experimenting with a video camera mounted to my bike. I was unfamiliar with it and only managed to get a short segment of the run leaving the lodge heading toward Mena. I missed the best part of the road because the camera timed out before we got to the twisties.
This was my fourth run of this stretch of road and I was riding fairly aggressively. I wanted to get some good video. One thing I did manage to capture on camera was a narrow miss with a squirrel. I was going into a long curve and saw the little guy come hopping across the road from the left side. I decided to try to take the line as far to the right as I could to give him as much time as possible to stop. I was fairly sure that if I tried to go behind him, he’d turn at the last minute and I’d hit him. In the video, you can see me drifting toward the right side of the road as the furry little kamikaze keeps coming.
At the last second he makes an impossible move and darts back the way he came. I then gently eased my line back toward the center of the road. Or at least that’s what I remember.
Watching the video, I’m surprised to see a substantial swerve right after missing Rocky. At first I thought it was a delayed attempt to avoid rodenticide. But the jag back toward the center lane clearly comes after passing the squirrel. It feels like I might have tried to give the varmint every extra inch by standing the bike up trying to get the wheel a few centimeters further to the right. The visible jag is clearly me trying to get back into a proper cornering line.
The thing is, I have absolutely no memory of doing that. Ultimately it made no difference, but if I had gone down there, I would have sworn that I was holding an even line. But in fact, I wobbled my way through the rest of the curve. It’s not a big deal really, but I find it disconcerting that my memory of the event could be so different from the facts recorded by my camera. It makes me question the validity of any memories during a stressful moment. It also goes a way toward explaining how in the aftermath of an accident, you can have two people both adamant that the other party is at fault.
I think the squirrel and I both learned a lesson. Hopefully he learned to watch out for motorcycles, and I learned that memory can be squirrely.

- Guy Wheatley

Oct 2
Campsite at Queen Wilhelmena State Park

Getting food ready for dinner as the campfire burns merrily at
Queen Wilhelmena State Park.

I took a week of vacation last week. Typical of my recent vacations, most of this one was spent working on the house. Buying a “fixer upper” seemed like such a good idea when I was a young lad in my 40s. Now in my mid 50s I’m starting to question the concept. But all work and no play makes for a dull vacation, so we did take two days off for a quick run up to Queen Wilhelmena State Park. It turns out to be a fantastic trip.
We take the backroads going by Millwood lake up to Hot Springs. Then we follow Highway 270 west, through the Ouachita National forrest over to Mena. We get to the camp ground right at 5:00 pm. By the time we registered and get the tent set up, it is almost 6:00. The plan is to run back to Mena and pick up sandwich supplies. I want to be back before dark, so we don’t have much time to look for firewood before hitting the road. Supplies in hand, we head back up skyline drive for the third time that day.
The sun is just dropping behind the mountain as we begin the 13 mile climb back to the campsite. The road is dark, lighted only by my headlight, but the sky is afire with the setting sun. The sky, at a little more than 2,000 feet, is clear and free of light pollution. I’d already noticed how blue it was during the day. Now, as the sun sets, it’s showing me colors I haven’t seen in years. Fiery orange silhouetting the mountain tops slowly changes to a deep velvet blue then dark violet. Brilliant stars speckle the sky overhead. Leaves haven’t started to change yet, but the air is still crisp with the promise of fall.
Riding this twisting mountainous road at night through bear country is foolish, but the beauty of it completely enraptures me. I think about stopping and taking a picture, but I know that a photo can never capture the moment. This environment has to be felt, more than seen. Some experiences are worth the risk, and this may be one of them.
Back at the campground, we start a fire and settle down to make and eat our sandwiches. Tomorrow we will run the Telimena Scenic Drive. Our plan was to then make our way home from Talihena Oklahoma. But plans change. I’ll blog a couple of more times about this trip and cover the scenic run in future posts.
The wind was brisk atop Rich mountain. I bungie the tent to the concrete wheel chock at the back of the parking pad to keep it from blowing away. Gusts of wind deform the tent throughout the night, but we sleep remarkably well. A long day of riding can do that for you.
Up the next morning, I’m surprised to find that I’m not as stiff as I expect to be. A quick run back into Mena for breakfast means two more runs of the 13 mile segment of skyline drive between the lodge and town. What a great way to start a day.

- Guy Wheatley