May 27

The complex molecules that power my motorcycle may have once powered,
or been part of, these flying creatures.

I’m on vacation next week. One thing about having grandkids is, it resolves any question of where we’re going for vacation. We’re going to see the grandkids. Both of my children live in Fort Worth, so a visit to one is a visit to both. A few years ago, we decided to haul the travel trailer to a park in the area and “camp out” there. (If you can call living in a tiny little mobile home complete with AC, water, sewer, and cable camping.) But hauling the camper and boat, meant the bike had to stay behind. We’re going to try something a little different this year.
We’re headed for Dinosaur Valley State park down in Glen Rose. We’re taking a tent and I’m loading Maggie in the back of the pickup. I’m hoping to get in some good riding while we’re there. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the roads south and west of Fort Worth. It’s just an hour south of Fort Worth, so we can see the grandkids. They might even come out and spend a night with us.
Researching the park, I see they’ve got some of those big dinosaur models. I don’t know what they’re made of, but I’d think that plastic or some other petroleum product is likely to be a large component. So if petroleum is a product of some jurassic swamp, that presumably had at least a few dinosaur carcasses in it, then possibly there is some actual dino in those dinos.
Right now Maggie is using a petroleum based oil. I’m planning to change her over to fully synthetic before the end of the summer. But for now, there’s possibly some dino atoms in her oil pan. So while I’m visiting my relatives, the dino atoms in Maggie’s oil pan can visit their relatives in the dinosaur models. See how well that works out.
We’ll be back for an appointment in Shreveport on Friday, but will probably spend the rest of the weekend camping at Queen Wilhelmina State park and run the Talimena scenic road a few times. And it’s possible that a complex hydrocarbon molecule that once soared in a petranodon wing will again soar over mountain passes in a howling flat-6 rice burner.

- Guy Wheatley

May 23
A small road

Small roads with trees almost touching overhead can make for pleasant riding.

We took another short ride this weekend. The original plan was to go to the Magnolia Festival in Magnolia, Ark. We’ve never stayed for the steak cookoff, and had decided to do so this year. The steaks are reputed to be world class and, in years past, the price was more than reasonable.
But Friday night BikeNight at Dougaloos made us reconsider. We got caught in a nasty downpour. I wanted to go on the bike, but Mrs. Sharon talked me into taking the truck. I’m glad she did because the sky opened up while we were there. There were a couple of BikeNighters there on their motorcycles, and they got pretty well soaked going home.
So when we got up Saturday morning and the sky looked threatening, we decided to pass on the trip to Magnolia. Staying late enough for steaks would mean coming back after dark. That’s bad enough by itself. I’m sure not trying it on a motorcycle, after dark, in a storm.
The sun occasionally peeks through the clouds all day Saturday, though, daring us to come out and play. We want to take at least a short ride. I decide it’s time for another of those exploration of small roads on the outskirts of town. This time we pick the southwest corner.
I don’t check these areas out on a map first, and I don’t have a gps with me. I can’t get lost because I’m bounded on all sides by known roads. But within this area I’m exploring, randomly picking a direction at each intersection or fork. And somehow the weather adds to the expeditionary feel, threatening but never actually raining.
Selecting a direction, I have no expectation for what lay ahead. I am amazed again some of these areas feel so alien. Dipping through a hardwood bottom on a narrow road with branches touching overhead, it’s hard to believe that I’m fewer than 7 miles from my front door. I’ve usually got only a general idea of where I am. It surprises me then, when I occasionally cross a road that I do know. It’s an odd feeling to suddenly be transported from an unknown, mysterious backroad to a place I know and have been before.
We ride for a couple of hours. We backtrack from dead ends, and occasionally circled back to take a different direction at an intersection from the one we’d taken before. Our wanderings cover about 25 miles of road before dumping us onto the familiar FM2148 from Gun Club Road.
Taking a left, I head south down to Clear Springs road and follow it to County Road 1217. By the time we reach Highway 67, the sky looks as though it’s through playing games and is serious about another deluge. Heeding the warning, we turn east onto Highway 67 and head for home.
The epic journeys that cross state lines are wonderful and adventurous. But this ride reminds me that on any given day, there is fun and adventure just a few miles down the road.

- Guy Wheatley

May 18
Brandon on his VLX 600

My son Brandon sitting on his Honda Shadow at his home in Fort Worth.

You know something is not a good idea when everyone stops what they’re doing and gathers around to watch. Suddenly being the center of that much attention rarely leads to something good.
We were taking my son’s bike to the shop, and needed to get it in the back of the pickup. I was visiting him in Fort Worth at the time and didn’t have the ramps I’d normally have used if we’d been at my house. The bike in question is a Honda Shadow, VLX 600. This little bike weighs about 425 pounds.
“We’ll get this done pretty quickly,” I remember thinking. “We can just lift it one end at a time into the bed.”
My son’s drive way has an extensive slope. It seemed that if the bike was uphill, we wouldn’t have to lift it very far. I pulled the truck into the driveway and he pulled that bike up behind it. My son and I stepped around and grabbed the front of the bike with the intention of setting the front wheel up on the tailgate. But with the bike in such a severe nose down position, almost the full 425lbs was on the front wheel.
We grunted and strained for a while, almost throwing the bike over on it’s side a couple of times, and even got the wheel tantalizingly close to the tailgate. But eventually our strength gave out and the bike remained on the ground. Time for Plan B.
With the bike and pickup both on level ground, we had no trouble setting the front wheel up on the tailgate. Now, however, we had 425 pounds of motorcycle sitting on the back wheel. Now you would think that two grown men could lift 425 pounds to a height of just under 3 feet. And in truth, we could. But as we got the back tire close to the tailgate, the bike now towering over our heads would start to fall over. We couldn’t balance it from the ground. If one of us got in the truck to hold the bike up, that left the other trying to lift the bike from the ground by himself. Trembling with fatigue and anger, we finally realized that this wasn’t going to work either. Time for Plan C.
“There’s a church just up the road that has a loading dock.” my son tells me.
I take the truck and he rides the bike. Now in addition to lifting a heavy motorcycle we have to be careful of hot pipes.
I back the pickup up to the loading dock, and Brandon takes the bike to the top. I join him and we both glare at the two foot drop from the loading dock, designed for tractor trailers, to the bed of the truck. We both stand there a while, neither willing to make the first move.
“Do you think you can …” I start to ask.
“Nope!” he says before I finish. Time for Plan D.
The loading dock is built on a steep hill. I see one place beside the dock where the tailgate of my truck might actually dig into the ground as I back up to it. I get in the truck and drive off of the parking lot, between two trees, and onto the grass at the back of the church. Brandon follows me on the road at the top of the hill. I find a likely looking spot and back up to the hill. As my tailgate comes within a foot and a-half of the hill, My back tires begin to climb and the gap increases.
By now, locals are starting to watch. One supposes a pickup and motorcycle driving over the lawn of the local church is not something they see every day.
I find the optimal spot with a gap of roughly 1-1/2 feet and we try to load the bike. Our old nemesis gravity foils us again. Nose down once again, the front tire is wedged into the gap between the tailgate and the hill with 425 pounds of force. It’s so close, but grunt and strain as we may, we just can’t lift it onto the tailgate. Plan E
I survey the hill looking for a spot with more slope, hoping to find a place where I can get the tailgate close enough to the hill to just roll the bike in. There is one spot, but unfortunately there is a tree right in front of it. I’m not sure there’s enough room for my truck between the hill and the tree, but I’m going to find out.
Forward, reverse, forward, reverse, I eventually crab the truck into position with its front bumper touching the tree, and a 10-inch gap between the hill and tailgate. Fortunately, the hill wasn’t as tall here, and the bike won’t be approaching the truck at such a severe nose down attitude. But it is still going downhill. We’ll never be able to roll the bike backwards if this doesn’t work, so this is a one-shot proposition. I look at the 24-inch diameter of the front tire and try to imagine how much of it will drop into the 10-inch gap between us and success. I decide to use the engine to help us power the front tire through the gap. I debate the virtue of standing to one side, but eventually come to the conclusion I’ll have more control straddling the the machine. In other words, I decided to ride it in.
There are now cars stopped along the street with people watching. I’m sure somebody is catching cell phone video. I may well soon be the next youtube viral sensation. I ease down the slope, approaching the truck. As the front wheel nears what now appears to be a cavernous gulf between the land and the bed of my truck, I gun the engine hoping to lift the front wheel. All I do is hit the hole harder. But I manage to keep the bars straight so that the wheel doesn’t slip sideways down under the truck. It’s a hard jolt, but as the front forks recoil, I again gun the engine and the little bike pushes it’s front tire up into the bed.
I’m saved from slamming into the cab as the back tire falls into the gap bringing me to an abrupt halt. Brandon is standing on the tailgate to help me stay balanced. He steadies me, and once I’ve got the bike under control, I ease onto the throttle. The back tire climbs out of the gap and suddenly we’ve done it.
We start tying the bike down and the crowd, deprived of the anticipated entertainment, drifts away. Now we just need to haul it across town to the dealer and unload it.
“We’ll get this done pretty quickly,” I think. “We can just lift it one end at a time out of the bed.”

- Guy Wheatley

May 11

Having only one hand doesn’t slow down Jimmy Brown. Here he is on his
1978 Yamaha XS-650 which he rode into Texarkana from Hope.

I was looking out my second-story office window a few days ago and noticed a motorcycle parked in front of the building. I was trying to identify the make when the rider comes back and starts loading up. I immediately ran for the stairs hoping to get to the front door before he left. I just had to talk to this guy.
I exited the front door and got a better look at the prosthetic hook protruding from the rider’s right sleeve. It was this that had sparked my curiosity. I identified myself as a blog writer and asked if he minded if I asked a few questions and blogged about him.
Mr. Brown has owned five motorcycles over the years, ranging from those with 50cc motors to 750. His current ride is a 1978 Yamaha XS-650. He showed me how he’s moved the throttle to the left side and demonstrated using it in conjunction with the clutch. He primarily brakes with the foot- actuated rear brake, but showed me the little screw he’s added to the end of the front brake lever on the right handle bar. It stops the hook from sliding off so that he can use the front brake as well if he chooses to do so.
I ask if he has a motorcycle endorsement, and he pulls his license out to show me that he does.
“Were there any problems getting your license?” I ask.
“I got my license in 1973,” he explains. “I lost my hand in 1976.”
He told me he started riding again in 1978, and that he never had any problems or fear about getting back on his bikes.
“I just got on and started riding,” he said. “I never was afraid I couldn’t do it.”
Currently Mr. Brown doesn’t have a car, so the 650 Yamaha is his primary means of transportation. He doesn’t belong to a motorcycle club, or routinely ride with a large group of people. He is not, then, your typical baby boom biker. He’s just a man who has always liked and ridden motorcycles. An original free spirit, seemingly unaware that he has a “disability.”
Mr Brown had no intention of impressing me when he hopped his bike and rode to town. But he did.

- Guy Wheatley

Apr 14
icon1 Guy | icon2 Small Talk, Wrenching | icon4 04 14th, 2011| icon31 Comment »

Closeup photos of various parts. The mechanic is explaining what to look
for in determining damage, or explaining how to install them.

I spend a fair amount of time on the Valkyrie tech board. Any time I plan to work on my bike, I check the tech board to see if somebody else has done something similar. I’m looking for tips, tricks and warnings about potential problems. It’s also easy to wind up chasing rabbits. I’ll be scouring the board looking for something about a planned project when something interesting will catch my eye. Before I know it, I’ll have spent hours reading about something completely unrelated to my original subject.
Another thing about the tech board is the disembodied nature of the sages from whom I seek knowledge. Many of them live in different regions of the country. I know them first by their screen names and the avatar they select for their account. As time goes on, I begin to build up a nebulous image in my mind based on their postings, and the response to them by other board members. Some folks are like me, more prone to ask questions than offer opinions. Others are more likely to answer questions. A select few become the go-to people on the board. They will be the ones others address questions to. These members are quickly vetted by the accuracy of their suggestions. Blowhards are swiftly identified by the value of their advice. If somebody gives bad information, usually a more knowledgeable member will be quick to point it out. The ensuing discussion gives those of us seeking knowledge a good idea of who to listen to.
Many of the good wrenchers will post photos or video of their projects. And this is where I can wind up wasting so much time. I’m fascinated by those bold characters with the courage to tear that deeply into their Fat Ladies.
I was perusing a set of photos showing parts from the deep innards of a Valkyrie one day. This was deep enough in the machine that I hope to never see those parts of my motorcycle. The mechanic was holding parts and taking closeup photos showing various aspects of how they were mounted or what a particular sort of damage looked like. This guy obviously knew his stuff, boldly digging into the deepest recess of the injured machine.
Looking at more images, something began to catch my eye. I noticed that the slightly greasy hand holding the parts and tools had red fingernails. Honestly, my first thought was to wonder how the heck he could hit every finger bad enough to discolor them all. Of course what I was looking at was actually red fingernail polish.
My curiosity peeked, I did a little research and found that this board member going by the screen name, “Ladydraco,” was, in fact, a woman. Any other preconceived notions quickly died as I checked her other galleries and discovered her to be a very feminine woman, not at all hard on the eyes. I almost felt cheated. Where was the grizzly bearded, beer-gutted mechanical genius I had been following in my mind’s eye? Imagine, all of this technical prowess, and not a Y chromosome in sight.
I guess Ladydraco taught me about more than just motorcycles.


Ladydraco, working on her Valkyrie.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 21
VL Harley

An old Harley, possibly similar to one of the bikes used by my story teller.

As I pulled up to the pumps, I was scanning each station for the shortest line. I saw an empty car at the end pump and hopefully assumed that the driver had finished and was paying with cash at the window. I was topping off the bike for a day trip and was trying to get in and out of the gas station as quickly as possible.
I watched as an elderly gentleman slowly ambled toward the car from the pay window. He seemed to take forever, but I thought that once he reached his car I’d have the pump. My irritation grew as I realized he was returning to begin fueling his vehicle. I checked the other pumps, but decided my prospects were no better at any of the others. I started to reconsider as I watched the old man try to open the gas cap, then realize he had to return to the driver seat to release the catch. I again checked the other pumps to see if one of them looked promising enough to lure me away.
Motion caught my eye as I looked forward to see the aged driver shuffling toward me, his eyes fixed on the gleaming valve covers of my Valkyrie’s engine.
“What is that,” he asked.
I’ve had this happen before. I figured this old gentleman rode bikes in his day, but would have seen nothing like the 1500cc flat six nestled between my legs.
What is that?” he inquired.
“A Valkyrie,” I answered.
“It’s got 6 cylinders?” he asked as he counted my pipes.
“Yes sir,” I answered. “It’s a 1500 flat-six.”
“Well I used to ride some 45s back in my day,” he told me.
As we continued to chat, I gathered that the bikes he rode were the 45 cubic inch Harleys from the 1940s. As his tank slowly filled he regaled me with some of his adventures from an earlier time. There were races, close calls on dirt and gravel roads where cattle roamed free range and the challenge of machines with hand shifts and foot clutches.
For a short time he was young again, finding two-wheeled adventure with friends long gone. And I was fortunate enough to be with him for those too few short moments.
Before he left to pay for his gas, I invited him to join us at Dougaloo’s on Friday nights for out Bike Night meetings. I have little doubt some of the others there would also enjoy his tales of a previous biking era. But I could see in his eyes he wouldn’t make it. This was a rare moment brought about by an opportune meeting at the gas pumps.
I’m glad now that none of the other pumps was empty. I can’t remember enjoying the wait for a pump more. And all too soon, such opportunities will be gone. I’m fortunate to have experienced this one.

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 8
The man in black
icon1 Guy | icon2 Small Talk | icon4 03 8th, 2011| icon33 Comments »
Leather riding gear

Geared up for an early spring ride to the Magnolia Festival

When I first started riding, I ran out and bought a lot of black leather. A leather riding jacket, black leather vest, and black chaps. That’s what motorcycle riders were wearing, right? Certainly a lot of them were.
As I look back now though, I think most of the people in biker costumes were almost as new to riding as I. If fact, the two guys in our group who had actually been riding for decades rarely wore any of the biker clothes. They mostly wore jeans, a shirt and whatever weight of jacket the weather called for.
As I now look through my closet full of black leathers, I find myself less and less enamored with the color. It’s too hot in the summer. It’s too hard to see and doesn’t offer the extra visibility a motorcyclist really needs. Then, there’s the image. A black leather-clad biker roaring up on his hog presents a certain image, right? Maybe, maybe not.
This is really a two-part question. The first question is, “What image are we trying to give with our black leather garb?”If it’s some “bad hombre” vibe with a vague suggestion that we may have connection to certain outlaw gangs, then we’re actually missing the mark. Those guys don’t really dress like that. They probably laugh at those of us who do. I’ve decided that that’s not the image I want to try to present.
The second part of the question is, “Is that really the image we want to present?” For me at least, the answer is no. So, it’s time to pick another look.
As I start looking for an alternative to black leather, I discover that any other color is both hard to find and more expensive.The black stuff is so popular there is always somebody seriously overstocked, or going out of business and you can pick up some real quality garments for very little. Not so with other colors.
I’ll just have to wait over the next couple of years to see what I wind up with..

- Guy Wheatley

Mar 1

I rode to work one day last week in between the rain storms. Somebody commented to me that it was a good day to ride. At that time gasoline was pushing $3.00 per gallon and frankly, that had more to do with my decision to ride the bike than the weather.
“If gas keeps going up,” I said, “There are going to be a lot of good days to ride.”
Last year my decision to ride had more to do with the weather, or whether or not I needed to carry something large to work. Now, as gas prices climb toward $4, I find myself in the saddle on days I might have been in the pickup in the past.
Generally I’m pleased anytime motorcycling gets a boost. More people riding means more clout for this demographic, and better treatment from those needing our support —whether politicians or merchants. But this particular force may be driving more problems to the two-wheeled crowd than benefits.
People who buy a motorcycle to save money are less likely to dedicate sufficient resources to safety. Getting an MC license will cost at least $250 by the time you take the MSF course. And those frugal-minded bikers are more likely to skimp on good riding gear. Good gear is expensive. You can get the cheap stuff, but all too often with safety gear, you get what you pay for.
The true enthusiast begins riding in a less stressful environment than the daily commuter. And weekend rides are more often taken with other, more experienced riders who can set good examples and offer advice. Somebody lacking riding experience hopping on a bike and fighting rush hour traffic with the coming work day on their mind is a recipe for disaster.
I won’t advise against getting a bike for the gas mileage, but I will remind those planning such a move that the safety issues don’t change just because you don’t think of yourself as a biker.

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 28
Mod or Rocker?
icon1 Guy | icon2 Small Talk | icon4 01 28th, 2011| icon32 Comments »

Me in a coat and tie on my Valkyrie. Am I a Mod or Rocker?

I recently ran across a reference to Mods vs Rockers. I’d never heard of this before and was surprised to discover that this “conflict” was well documented and considered an important cultural event. There are even clubs today active in major cities, including Dallas. The Dallas Texas RockervsMod website has rally photos going back to 2007.
The thing that caught my attention when I first ran across an online reference to the mods was the photo of a slender young man wearing a neat, dark suit with the typically narrow ’60s tie sitting on a scooter. Roddy McDowall came to mind. I was surprised to discover he was apparently a typical member of a feared gang. There were numerous news accounts of them going toe to toe with a precursor to the England’s Hells Angels motorcycle gang called the Rockers. The image brings to mind the rabbit with “really big teeth” in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” First of all, what in creation would entice a neatly dressed young man in suit and tie riding a Vespa to throw down on a leather -clad future Hells Angel?
It turns out that while there were a few physical confrontations between the groups, most of the actual furor was from a bored press. The two groups occupied different territory and rarely came into contact. The most famous conflict was on Easter weekend 1964 in the English seaside city of Clacton. The fight resulted in several broken windows and the destruction of some seaside huts. Several newspaper accounts however painted images of large -scale rioting and complete breakdown of public order.
The Rockers looked the part dressing in jeans and leather, riding motorcycles, and listening to rock ’n’ roll. The Mods presented an incongruous picture puttering up, neatly dressed and groomed on their Vespas or Lambretta GT200s. They carefully cultivated an image of snobbishness. Their music of choice was blues, soul and R&B. I gather they were drawn to these genres more by its rarity at that time than any actual love of the music. As those styles became popular, the Mods quickly abandoned them for other forms, such as Jamaican Bluebeat.
As amusing as this image seems, I was suddenly struck by a view of myself riding to work in tie and sport coat. As I write this, there is a mix of Celtic and New Age music wafting from the speakers on my desk. Maybe those guys weren’t so odd for their time after all. I can’t handle a scooter though. I’ll take my Valkyrie over a Vespa any day.

- Guy Wheatley

Jan 12

A light snow blew in and dusted everything in the carport.

I built a carport a couple of years ago. Despite firm proclamations and assertions that this edifice would be used to keep our automobiles protected from the elements, my wife’s car , my pickup and the Tahoe all sit under a cap of snow in the driveway.
The tools and benches that should be in the garage I’ve haven’t built yet take up one side of the carport, and a bar table, chairs, and swing that my wife insisted on putting out there line the opposite wall. There would be room to squeeze in one car, but I don’t think you could get the doors open to get in or out of it. On the plus side, there is enough room to get the bikes under it and still have a little room to work.
Because the carport sits in the only access to the back yard from the front, I built it tall enough to pull the camper through. I haven’t put doors on it yet. They will be 13 feet tall, and will have to swing out of the way so that I can pull straight through. I have openings then at both ends, 13 feet tall and 14 feet wide. That’s easily large enough for snow to drift all the way to the back. I can pretty well keeps things dry from the rain, but the snow was a different story. I’ve got a light dusting of it on top of every thing in the garage. Fortunately, I had covers on the bikes, so they stayed dry.
Too cold and nasty to ride, this would be a perfect time to get in some serious bike maintenance. Unfortunately, I’ll have to shovel the snow out of the carport first. Also, there is no way to heat a space that large and open at both ends, so for this winter I may be dry, but I will be cold as I work.
I want to ride this summer, but I need to work on the bikes first. To work on the bikes, I need a place to work. I need to knock down the useless old tool shed in the back yard and build a nice heated garage. But it’s too cold for that now, so I’ll have to do it this summer, when I’d like to be riding.
It feels like not eating my cake, but still not having it

- Guy Wheatley

« Previous Entries Next Entries »