Mar 30
Chariot races from 1939” width=

A modern twist on chariot races in 1939 at the
Palmerston North Speedway in the Manawatu area of New Zealand.

The heyday of the Roman war chariot was about 1,500 years ago, but they may be coming back. Hopefully they won’t be used to subjugate neighboring nations. But the excitement of careening around a dirt track in a flimsy looking, two-wheeled cart a la Ben Hur, sans biological horses, seems to be calling to some modern gear heads. A company called RomanX is trying to bring back the excitement of bread and circuses, ancient Rome style. It’s just replaced the hay burners with gas burners. Specialized quad machines are harnessed to the front of the ancient-styled chariot, driven by a racer dressed as an ancient Roman warrior. RomanX hopes to bring this to life as a commercial venture with television contracts. Who knows? There are certainly stranger shows on the air.
The people at RomanX aren’t the only ones with this idea. A quick Web search gave several hits of variations on the theme. Most of the other sites and videos I found used standard motorcycles as the “beasts” of burden. Some had riders on the bikes, other modified the bikes to be controlled from the chariot. One group even put plastic horses over the top of the motorcycles. Some of these folks just seemed to be having fun, while others are looking toward some sort of business venture. It’s an interesting idea, but it turns out that it’s not a new idea.
I recently ran across a post of old photos featuring old motorcycles. There were several interesting photos, including extended-fork, chopper-styled bikes going back as far as 1917. But what caught my eye were the old Roman chariots being pulled by motorcycles. I was able to track one of the photos to a 1939 event at Palmerston North Speedway at the A & P show grounds in the Manawatu area of New Zealand. Apparently the show grounds had fallen on hard times and was looking at various new attractions to bolster attendance. It had two “chariots” built by a local company that used two, nine-horsepower, Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The history of the speedway site says that one of the riders, Murray Andrews, attended the 75th Jubilee. It didn’t mention whether he showed up on the chariot. The site says there are no accounts of how the machines performed. But I can see a good bit of dirt being spit from the wheels in the old photo. My guess is they were pretty exciting. I’d have bought a ticket. Ancient Romans captured nations with chariots pulled by one and two horses. I’d imagine that Mr. Andrews and companion were able to capture and audience with their chariots pulled by 18 horses.

- Guy Wheatley

Editors note: I originally had the location of the A&P Speedway as Takaro, New Zeland. Thanks to Max Rutherford, Secretary/webmaster, Historic Speedway Ass. for setting me straight.

Mar 26
Faith in the bike
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 03 26th, 2012| icon32 Comments »
Left side of the

Left side of the 1520 cc, “boxer” engine on my Valkyrie.

The wife, Binky and I took a ride up to the Jonquil Festival a couple of weekends ago. The weather was great and we were just looking for an excuse to ride. We left the house about 12:30 pm and got there in a little less than an hour. We checked out the vendors, bought a few trinkets, showed off Binky in his stroller and just generally enjoyed the weather and atmosphere. By 4:30 we were ready to load up and head for home.
Instead of taking the same road back I headed west on state Highway 73, intending to go back through Ashdown. I made a mistake where 73 intersects state Highway 355. I should have turned north and followed it up to where 355 meets with state Highway 32. Instead I turned south and followed 355 back to Fulton. But the road was pretty, so there’s no real tragedy here. I just had to rerun the part of U.S. Highway 67 from Fulton to Texarkana.
But with Fulton still in my rearview mirror, the bike started to sound strange. It’s hard to describe the sound except to say it sounds harder. It’s as though there is a harder bang when the cylinder fires. At first I wasn’t sure I was really hearing anything, but it got worse and worse. Then it started to slowly lose power. By the time we got to within 5 miles of Texarkana, I had the throttle wide open trying to maintain 55 MPH.
I kept the throttle cranked open trying to shave every mile I could before the bike finally died. I figured that as soon as I let off the gas, it would die and I’d be calling somebody for a ride. Every mile closer I got, was a mile I wouldn’t have to trailer it.
We finally got into town. I hoped that I might get lucky and hit the first few signal lights green. Fat chance. The first one I came to changed to red, just as I got to it. I got in the far right lane and looked for a place to push the bike off the road when it died. I let off the gas expecting to hear the engine sputter and stop. To my pleasant surprise, it idled down and sounded fine. I cranked the throttle a couple of times, winding the engine up to red-line. It revved perfectly, never missing a beat.
I was convinced that the engine was suffering gas starvation. Even though it would rev up in neutral, I figured that I’d have to really pile on the RPMs and slip the clutch to get it moving without dying. The light turned green and I cautiously eased out on the clutch, ready to give it all the gas I could if it started to lug down. But it eased right through the intersection as though there was nothing wrong. I hit several more red lights on the way home, and never had a problem. The bike ran just fine the rest of the way home.
I rode it the 10 blocks to work all week and never had a problem. Sunday the three of us ran about 40 miles up 67, cutting back west at 108, then eventually coming back into town on Summerhill Road. This was as much to check out the bike as it was a joy ride. It seemed to do fine.
That’s not necessarily good news. It might have been a little water in the tank that I finally burned out. Possibly it could have been a clogged vent tube pulling a vacuum on the gas tank. It could have been several things. The problem is, I don’t know what it was. More to the point, I don’t know that it won’t come back. I’d feel much better if I had found something to fix. Now I keep listening to the bike, wondering if it sounds a little strange. Buzzing around town is one thing, but I don’t have the confidence in it yet to load up and take a long trip. And unless I find the cause of that episode, I won’t trust it for some time.
All I can do is ride it until it happens again, or I eventually stop waiting on it to happen. I don’t enjoy not having faith in my bike.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 23
Finding the ex
icon1 Guy | icon2 Small Talk | icon4 03 23rd, 2012| icon3No Comments »
Sharon on the Victory” width=

My wife Sharon on the Victory.

A rider on a motorcycle forum (Link to VRCC) recently posted he’d found the name and contact information for a previous owner of his bike, scribbled on the inside cover of the owner’s manual. His question to the group was, “Would you mind if the new owner of a bike you had sold contacted you?” There were 18 replies to the thread. Five of them didn’t really address the issue, three were flat-out no, and 10 thought it would be OK. The responses were interesting and give one a little insight about the people expressing those opinions.
Most of the folks who liked the idea had fond memories of something they had sold and wanted to know what happened to it. They still felt an attachment to the thing they’d sold and hoped it was still being used and well taken care of. One respondent mentioned a more pragmatic reason. He had contacted a previous owner and came into free parts the PO no longer needed.
The people who didn’t think it was a good idea mentioned some things I hadn’t thought of. One guy said that he’d bought his bike from an estate and was in no hurry to be able to talk with the previous owner. Another person said that his bike came from a man suffering hard times. He knew the guy didn’t want to sell but simply had no choice. He was afraid contacting this previous owner would only stir up bad memories.
The negative response that most resonated with me was from somebody who’d bought a bike that had been repossessed. My Victory had been a repo. It was an unusual enough brand in this area the previous owner would have recognized it immediately if he’d spotted me on it. I always found that a bit disconcerting, and felt a little uneasy when ever I caught somebody looking at the bike. But I did get attached to it. Even though I sold it in order to get my beloved Valkyrie, I still wanted to believe that it would be ridden and loved by the new owner. I wrote about the sale in a previous blog. (Big Vic is gone.) I was fortunate in that not only did I fully believe that the new owner would care for the bike as much as I had, but it turns out he goes to the bikers’ church just a few blocks from my house. (Link to blog – It ain’t a sin to be in the wind.) I get to see Big Vic almost every Sunday and know, despite a gender change, (They call it a her and named it Victoria.) he’s well taken care of.
I’ve sold two other bikes, both little 250 starter bikes. The NightHawk went to an elderly gentleman who was coming back to bikes for the first time in more than 30 years because of rising gas prices. I had fond memories of the NightHawk. I was able to ride a similar model when I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. I wouldn’t mind knowing what became of it. I hope it’s a good story.
The other little 250 was a Diamio we bough for my wife to learn to ride. It had a few issues that could, and should, have been quickly remedied by the dealer. But the dealer experience was so bad I eventually came to despise this little machine. Though I eventually gained enough wrenching experience to be able to take care of the problems myself, my wife gave up trying to learn before I was able to get it ridable. I sold the bike with full disclosure and encouraged the buyer to contact me if he had any trouble. I never heard from him and can only assume/hope that things went well for him. I wouldn’t mind knowing for sure how it turned out.
Reading the comments on the board and examining my feelings about the bikes I’ve sold, I’ve come to realize a little part of us goes with the bike as it passes on to the next owner. And I think I can detect at least a little of my Valkyrie’s previous owner. He and his wife rode a lot, putting more miles on it in their first few months than I have in the years I’ve owned it. This model is often referred to as a “Phat Lady.” I can promise you she does get pouty and temperamental when she’s been ignored for too long. But like a real lady, she can get your heart pounding when you give her the attention she deserves.
I don’t plan to ever sell the Valkyrie or the Magna, so contact from a future owner is never likely to be an issue. There is too much of my soul now living in those bikes for me to ever let them go.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 19
Proud of their bikes
icon1 Guy | icon2 News | icon4 03 19th, 2012| icon32 Comments »
The MST from Motus” width=

The MST from Motus makes its debut.

Here in my neck of the woods, we comment on something being expensive by saying that the seller is “proud of it.” Motus is certainly “proud” of their new bikes, the MST and MST-R. There is good reason for some of that pride. These are truly revolutionary bikes, incorporating the unique KMV-4, Gasoline Direct Injection engines from Katech. And the bikes themselves were subjected to 6,000 miles “real world” testing in a coast-to-coast shakedown/exposure run for the concept bikes. The data collected was reportedly used for final tweaking of the production bikes. So while I’ve never had the opportunity to put seat in the saddle of an MST, I have no doubt that they are exceptionally well engineered and handle very well. Taking all of that into consideration I expected that these motorcycles would not be inexpensive. But I didn’t expect the pricing schedule they opened with. MRSP prices were recently revealed in a
dealernews.com article. Did I say, “Not inexpensive?” At $30,000 and $36,975 for the MST and MST-R, respectively, I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I think those prices are a tad high. The only opinion that matters in the end is the opinion of the consumer. But just who is Motus’ target consumer? To me, both bikes look like sport bikes. I’d guess that the riders who would be interested would also be looking at bikes like the Suzuki Hayabusa – $13,999†, the GSX-R 1000 – $13,799† or the Ninja ZX-10R ABS – $14,999†. Motus will have to be producing a heck of a bike to come in at double the price of the well-established competitors.
But there is always the possibility that I’m missing the true target market. Maybe they’re actually going after the buyers of slightly more exotic bikes, like the Triumph Rocket 3 – $17,494† or the Ducati Diavel AMG – $26,495†. They’re still out of line on the pricing.
The most expensive class of motorcycle is the cruiser. A Honda GoldWing will set you back $26,199†. Or you can look at a Victory Vision – $20,999† or Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic for $22,714†. But these are fully dressed bikes with loads of accessories like built in sound systems and GPS. They all have fairings to keep wind and water off the rider and lots of storage in the form of large saddle bags and trunks. Far larger than the fanny packs slung as an afterthought over the MST’s rear fender. Yet, they still cost considerably less than the offerings from Motus.
As I’ve said before, I want to see Motus succeed. And just because I don’t understand their marketing strategy doesn’t mean they don’t have a good one. But it’s beyond my comprehension at the moment.
I’ll be watching this company, with fingers crossed in the months ahead. Good luck guys. I’m pulling for you.

† MSRP pricing found online.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 12
Winter Bikes” width=

Bikes under the carport weathering a short snow..

Here in Texas, we have a relatively short off season. The weather here just doesn’t go into months of deep frost. Even in what passes as the dead of winter in Texarkana, I can find a couple of riding days in any two week period. I never store my bikes for the winter. They just aren’t going to be there long enough for that to be a necessity.
I find it interesting to listen to the guys from more northern climates on the various motorcycle boards I belong to. I think the off season can be harder on the riders than on the bikes. They’ve had to winterize their rides with additives to the gas and oil. Some believe in draining the fluids, while other insist that keeping seals moist is important. The motorcycles have to be protected from the elements. Some find winter homes in garages or storage buildings while others are wrapped warmly under bike covers.
As the machines peacefully slumber the winter away, their owners grow increasingly frustrated. A few, possessing large enough working areas, ease their pains with winter projects and maintenance. Many others turn to forums and biker boards trying to stay connected in some way with motorcycling. But often the good-natured and friendly posts about summer rides and adventures are replaced with laments about being stuck inside. Tempers are shorter and the topic list is broader than in the summer months. The result is often a general decline in civility and tolerance manifested online. Several members have commented on the cyclic nature of online temperament. During the winter months there is more arguing and name-calling than when people are out burning energy and frustrations as well as gasoline on the road. I also see more people coming and going on the boards during the winter. As one person gets feelings hurt and leaves, another will join. And often, the newbie will have just left, or been kicked off, another board.
But eventually the days get longer, the weather warmer, and the flowers start to bloom. And guys who sounded as though they might have done violence had they been in the same room will clap each other on the back as they leave a favored greasy spoon to put some miles under their wheels.
So to all of you out there sick of the trolls, hang on. Summer’s coming.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 5
Guy on his Valkyrie” width=

Joy riding on the Valkyrie.

Even though both of my bikes are considered power cruisers, I’ve always taken pride in not using that power irresponsibly. I like knowing that if I need to get out of a dangerous spot, I’ve got the power to do so. I can quickly accelerate to pass a large vehicle, or to get out of somebody’s blind spot. Twice, a twist of the wrist has taken me out of the path of potential danger. Maggie’s get-up-and-go has gotten me out of a couple of tight spots at intersections when another driver wasn’t paying attention.
But that power was not to be abused. I took pride that I drove close to the speed limit, didn’t shoot through intersections and waited for large gaps to merge or pass. To me, a good rider is one who makes good decisions and avoids the necessity of riding on the edge to avoid disaster, not somebody who lucks out after getting themselves in a bad spot with supposed riding skills. I had no respect for those people I’d see darting around cars and shooting intersections as the light changed. I still don’t.
Imagine my surprise then to discover I’d become one of them. I realized I was driving like some stupid young kid on a sport bike, or Squid, as we old cruisers call them. I was on the Valkyrie one day, stuck behind a couple of cars on a four-lane road. They were pacing each other going right at the speed limit. The road ahead was clear, but I couldn’t get around them as they poked along side by side at almost the same speed. They were actually traveling at a reasonable speed, the speed limit. But in my squidified mental state, this was an intolerable situation. A small gap finally opened up as one car slowly pulled ahead of the other and I cranked the throttle and shot through it. I kept the throttle open letting my cobras roar as I looped around the car ahead of me, cutting back into the lane far too quickly. I took some satisfaction in the thought that I probably scared the dickens out of the cage driver.
That’s when the 55-year-old, responsible adult who’d been asleep somewhere in the back of my brain finally woke up and demanded to know just what the heck I was doing. I’d only been back on the bike a couple of weeks at this time. Somehow I’d been seduced by the power available with the flick of a wrist. I don’t know if it was a subconscious revolt against the frailty I’d recently felt or some other factor. I just know I’d let it take over. The speed and acceleration had become a narcotic, and I’d gotten hooked.
There is no Squids Anonymous nor a 12-step program. This has to stop right now, cold turkey. And it has. To my relief, simply calling my behavior to light was enough to remove the desire to act that way. I’ve always been repulsed by the attitude of those who’s lack or respect for themselves, others and their sport, allow them to behave so irresponsibly. Realizing that I was behaving that way was disconcerting enough to remove the temptation to do so again.
Thank goodness my epiphany didn’t come with a call to 911 and the sound of sirens.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 2
A real dog
icon1 Guy | icon2 Rides, Small Talk | icon4 03 2nd, 2012| icon3No Comments »
Binky in the bag.” width=

Our Yorkie puppy, Binky, in his riding bag.

We got a Yorkie puppy in September, a few days before the doctor’s appointment that would cause such a disruption in my life. Mrs Sharon made it clear from the start that he would accompany us on the motorcycle. We found a bag that was just the right size for both him and Sharon to be comfortable. She can hold him in front of her in the bag secured by a strap to her shoulder. The last ride we took in September was up to Dekalb, Texas, for the annual chili cookoff. That was Binky’s first trip on the bike, and he did rather well. Sharon zipped the top shut, but left it open enough for him to stick his head out. He spent the first half hour of the trip, watching the world go by and enjoying the wind in his furry little face. But after that, he pulled his head in, lay down in the bottom of the bag and slept the trip away. He arrived at the chili contest well rested and ready for samples. We didn’t let him have anything spicy, but there were some stews and roasts, so he got a few treats. Just a few days after that, we had to leave him with friends for a week. There hasn’t been much bike riding after that.
But last Saturday, I had new brakes on the Valkyrie and the weather was inviting. Sharon snagged Binky, but soon discovered that he had outgrown the bag from last September. Fortunately, she has a good supply from which to select a suitable replacement.
We waited until after noon to give the day a chance to warm up a little. We loaded up and headed out about 1 with no real destination in mind. I took the Genoa road exit from Loop 245, only to find it blocked by a passing train. Then I noticed a small road ruining parallel to the tracks and took it. This small road eventually ran into 237. I headed south for about 25 miles, then cut back west through Bloomburg to Queen City. At Queen City we hit 59 north back to Texarkana. We ran about 50 miles. This was my first ride of any distance since September and I was surprised at how ready I was to get home after such a short hop. I guess I’ve got to regain a little stamina.
Binky did pretty well. He got a little wiggly a few times, but always settled down. He’ll do just about anything as long as he’s with us. I couldn’t ask for a better little dog, and I’m looking forward to me, him, and Mrs. Sharon putting a lot of miles on the bike. It gives a whole new meaning to “the dog days of summer.”

- Guy Wheatley