Sunday, October 17, 2010

June 13, 2010, Our first night "away"

Sunday, June 13.  Suited up, about to pull out of Rhinebeck.
Last post, we left off describing our departure from New Hampshire, the trip to Rhinebeck, New York, and the vintage bike show there where we spent the whole weekend.  Things were crazy up through this point in time.  We'd ridden the approximately 250 miles from our home to Rhinebeck on highways and big roads through heavy rain.  Thursday night when we finally arrived at Rhinebeck, the gates were closed and we had to spend the night in the field outside the fairgrounds.  

During this leg, my dad and his girlfriend were following behind in their car, as they would be helping us at Rhinebeck.  In fact, we'd turned the weekend into a family outing as my two brothers and their significant others also made the trip out to the show.  We all had a great time and Julianne and I were grateful to have a chase vehicle for the beginning of the trip, especially with the bad weather.  Despite receiving a thorough soaking, the old Honda proved itself on this leg and ran the distance, at highway speeds, with luggage and a passenger, and without missing a beat.
Not that this leg did not have its challenges.  This was literally the first time we'd ridden together with the bike fully loaded.  We'd intended to do some short practice trips, but read the previous post and you'll see why it never happened.  So I had to learn very quickly how to handle the weight, and the poor performance of that single, solid disc brake when it's wet!  
Nevertheless it was a great ride, and we weren't phased.  By the end of the weekend we were excited to take off, and that we did. 
Family photo before leaving Rhinebeck
June 13, 2010

Sunday afternoon, after enjoying ourselves at the vintage bike show, Julianne and I suited up and headed out for the trip!  Rhinebeck is right on the Hudson River, and crossing the river was a big milestone for me.  We crossed the river at Kingston and followed Rte. 209 all the way to the Delaware Water Gap.  This was a very pleasant ride through pretty rural country.  At a gas station we saw a group of bikers with a trailer who were headed up to bike week in Laconia, New Hamphire.  It was funny to see people headed up that way when we were headed out! 
We reached Port Jervis, where the Delaware River came through and formed the border between New York and Pennsylvania.  We stopped here for a couple of supplies, including a gallon of spring water which we'd bunjee'd to the top of one of our hard cases.  I wasn't sure where we were at this point, and asked the girl at the counter how much further until the Pennsylvania border.  She must not have understood me because she said about an hour, and it turns out we were within a 1/4 mile of the Delaware River!  We crossed it here on the Mid-Delaware Bridge, which is a steel grid and if I may say very slippery on two wheels when it's wet! 
We weren't sure which campground we'd end up in in the Delaware Water Gap.  We figured we'd ride around, check the place out, and find one.  First we continued down 209 and stopped at Dingman's Falls for a short hike to the falls.  It was a nice little excursion and we met a very excited couple who'd been told by other visitors they'd just seen a bear go through there!  
We were still undecided about where to camp, and decided to cross the river at Dingman's Ferry on an old toll bridge, very cool.  I really wanted to check out the Old Mine Road, but we couldn't find it right away.  So we continued south and through the beautiful water gap area.  We did find a bit of the Old Mine Road, but it turned out to be gated a mile in.  
Well, we wound up wandering around the East side of the Water Gap for a good while, seeing deer, rabbits, old farmsteads, and lots of pretty countryside.  We wound up getting all turned around and drove into Blairstown, New Jersey.  I had to consult the map to see how to get back to the Water Gap, and by now we were short on daylight and needed to find our campsite.  I'd had a great time winding through the Water Gap on the old CB500. 
So we headed back up to the river on New Jersey Rte. 94, and ended up coming back into the Water Gap from the south end, following 209 north.  At this point we were basically looking for any place to pitch our tent and after much wandering and frustration, we passed a "group" campsite off of 209.  It had a little road heading down toward the river, and was gated.  Well, the Honda just fit past the gate so we rolled on through.  

Our Campsite in the Delaware Water Gap
Lucky find, and fun too: a water pump!
The little road into the campsite was about 1/2 mile, and we motored slowly down it passing a handful of deer.  When we pulled into the empty campsite, there were deer scattered about.  They eventually scurried off, but they were still nearby. 

This campsite was ideal because it was meant for groups, but there were no groups this evening, the site was all ours.  But there were bear-proof trash cans, a picnic table, bathrooms, and a water pump!  And the site was right by the beautiful river!  We lucked out here, even if it was a quasi-legal night!  It was still pretty wet that evening, so we put the fly on the tent and prepared a dinner of something canned and some rice, and went to bed around 9:30, by which time we were exhausted!  It was a great evening of sight-seeing though, and the roads in the Water Gap area are just a blast on an old motorcycle!

The next day the plan was to head down through most of Pennsylvania, see the Martin guitar factory, cross the Sesquahanna, and end up near or in Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  From this point we'd follow the Appalachian Mountains, basically paralleling the Appalachian Trail, all the way to the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This proved to be one of the best legs of the trip, and we'd just started out!

Finding this night's campsite did not go too smoothly.  Many nights would turn out this way, unfortunately.  At first we didn't realize we needed to start looking for a site until it got late, then we'd drive around looking for one and not always find a good (cheap) one.  This night we were lucky, and we'd have lots of great nights like this.  
Stay tuned for the next installment!
Jeremy B 
The parking area near our Water Gap campsite, across from the pump.  
There was a big old snapping turtle hiding in the middle of it before, and plenty
 of deer to be seen out in the meadow.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting the bike rolling again: The trip's early stages

June 10, finally taking off over Catamount Mountain, our first of many mountains to climb
It's been a while since our last update, in which I promised to begin to tell the full story of our trip, complete with plenty of pictures.  And now, after a couple of weeks of reluctantly shedding our hard-earned nomadic traits, and settling back into domestic life, we've finally been through all the pictures and have even compiled a sequence of where we were at the end of each day.  This combined with looking over the map we brought will allow me to remember roads, places, people, and happenings so that I can share with you all.  And so it begins, the official account of our 2010 cross country motorcycle tour.  The trip officially began the weekend of June 11th, but what happened before the trip is interesting and relevant enough to merit some attention here.
Preparations for the trip were moving along swimmingly by the beginning of May.  Juli and I had plenty of route ideas, most of our camping gear together, and I had the bike almost ready to go, excepting the addition of our luggage system.  I had completed many repairs and upgrades (see previous posting "Shakedown Street") but had yet to ride the bike any number of miles, during which I would normally fine tune things like the front end suspension, carburetors, and ignition components.  We also both had to finish our school semesters, and Juli had to move out of her Long Island apartment and studios.  Crunch time was upon us, as I had a recording project to finish and had yet to fabricate the luggage mounting system for the bike.

To help fund all this work and the trip itself, I had been working in the hardware store at home on the weekends.  One glorious New Hampshire Sunday morning, I rode the Honda four miles down Catamount mountain into town and to the hardware store.  The bike was running and working well and I remember thinking how nice it was to be riding.  Sunday mornings are kind of weird in that the store opens at 9:00 but the customers are always pounding the doors down at 8:40.  So I pulled into a very busy parking lot, mentally preparing myself to deal with the lovely public.  Suddenly, without warning, I was introduced to the front of a very large pickup.  It turns out this large and ugly truck was piloted by a real meat-head who didn't like to look in his direction of travel while driving.  The truck struck me on my left side and I was thrown down, landing next to the bike on the pavement, which was better than landing beneath the bike.  I got up and tested all my limbs and muscles and determined that I was just fine, and moved on to freaking out about my motorcycle.
What a lovely machine a modern truck is
My little Honda had taken the worst of the hit.  The bike was thrown down with some force, leaving many parts broken, dented, or bent.  The handlebar was badly bent, and it came around and dented the gas tank badly.  Both headlight ears were bent to one side, the left footpeg was bent around, and the front fender was dented.  Perhaps the worst part of the damage was the puncturing of the stator cover, on the left side of the bike's engine.  The plow frame of the idiot truck struck this part of the bike, mashing the stator into a mess which prevented the crankshaft from turning.  This particular bit caused me to wonder whether this bike would ever run again.
Somehow none of the lights were damaged and the bike's frame and front end came through without having been bent. 

The truck's plow frame hit here, about 9 inches from my foot.
The terrible driver was good enough to hang around while a member of our town's fine police force filled out a pseudo accident report using a blank D.E. form.  I got insurance information and took careful notes and pictures of the damage.  I was terrified that I had just lost everything, since a 1971 CB500 in mediocre condition has a Blue Book value of not very much. This incident weighed on me heavily, but in the end was resolved reasonably well.  The insurance company actually acted in an honest and reasonable manner; its adjuster totaled the bike and I was given a decent sum in compensation.  This amounted to less than I had invested in the bike, but I got to keep the bike to salvage or whatever else I decided. 
Nope, those aren't ape hangers.  The handlebar
was well bent and the tank got a nasty dent
What a scary, nerve-wracking thing to happen!  It goes to show you that you must, as a motorcyclist, ride as if every driver is actively trying to kill you.  Car drivers are stupid and are ignorant of the presence of motorcycles.  It also goes to show you how important your safety gear is.  This was a low speed accident, but I was banged up bad enough and the bike well messed up.  
I was, as always, wearing my helmet, riding jacket, leather gloves, jeans, and hiking shoes and came out okay.  Injuries included a scrape on my wrist, a bruised hip and shoulder, and not much else to speak of. It wasn't until later that night and over the next couple of days that the pain really hit me.  My arm and shoulder hurt and it was kind of hard to walk for a couple of days.  After a visit to the college campus medical office, I was deemed complete and not broken, only bruised. 
So after a few days of recovering both in mental and physical health, I once again began to prepare the bike for the trip.  Juli and I were determined not to let a little incident like this halt the trip we'd been planning and looking forward to for so long, even if we weren't able to leave on time.  So I started ordering parts online and got working.  I must admit it was a little emotionally taxing to start fixing, replacing, and repairing things again.  Much of this I'd already done earlier in the season, and the bike was 98% ready before the accident.  
One morning, during my daily coffee and craigslist ritual, I stumbled upon this little darling:  a 1972 CB500/4 complete and original but sitting for 25 years and with a stuck engine.  I called right away and left a message, then called my older brother to borrow a truck.  We came home with the bike the next evening and I had a pile of good parts.  The tank and side covers were immaculate, and I also got the stator and cover, handlebars and controls, and some other various bits.  The poor bike had been sitting so long that none of the chrome was still chrome and the engine really was well stuck.  I felt bad tearing this bike apart because it was so original.  Everything was as Honda had originally made it.  This was a great educational experience, though, as I got to see how cables and wires were intended to be routed, among other things. 
So the green CB500 became brown and was put back into service in a matter of weeks.  
During all of this, we had been planning to attend the Rhinebeck Grand National Supermeet in Rhinebeck, New York.  This was a large vintage motorcycle fair, which we had attended last year.  Julianne sold woodblock prints of old bikes there, and for this year we were to have prints and t-shirts (You can see her work on etsy).  The plan was for our family to come with us, so they could haul all of our vending stuff and spend the weekend together at the show as my brothers and father are gearheads as well.  Juli and I wanted to use the Rhinebeck show as a springboard for the trip, meaning the bike and luggage had to be ready by June 10.  
So the race was on and we had very little time to get everything ready.  Thankfully my older brother agreed to help me fabricate the luggage mounting system.  I don't have a welder or know how to use one.  So I dreamed up a system of square tubing and brackets and he welded them up for me.  By the morning we were supposed to leave, we still had work to do and my father and I literally finished making the attachments for the cases that morning.  Julianne was loading camping gear into the boxes as we were attaching them to the bike!  
Leaving our yard
Finally, by the late afternoon on the Thursday before the Rhinebeck show, we'd finished figuring out the luggage and suited up for the trip.  Rhinebeck is in the Hudson valley about halfway between New York and Albany, and is a 250 mile drive from our home.  We'd planned on taking the day to make the trip on back roads, but time did not allow for this now so we took the highway the whole way down.  The first 3 hours of the 4.5 hour trip were done in heavy rain, limiting our visibility and comfort.  Yes, the gods were really testing our conviction to do this trip!  But we soldiered on and arrived in Rhinebeck just after 10PM.  We were too late to get into the fairgrounds and had to sleep in the field outside the gate.  Pitching a tent somewhere and calling it a night would be a common theme throughout the trip.  Between the heavy rain and having taken the highway the entire way, this first leg of the trip really was a good test run or shakedown of the bike.  It ran great and all of our luggage stayed attached and dry.  
Our table at Rhinebeck, with the Honda
on display and a map of our route
The weekend at Rhinebeck was fantastic!  We had a great time looking at old motorcycles and Juli sold a fair amount of t-shirts and prints.  I enjoyed seeing the vendors' tables, looking over old parts from all types of bikes.  I even picked up a couple of items for my future scrambler project.  At Rhinebeck we also met Andy from Boston, a forum member at the Honda SOHC4 forums.  These are the forums I referred to countless times when rebuilding and repairing the Honda before the trip.  Andy has traveled extensively on his Honda CB750, the big brother to our CB500, so it was especially great to meet him as he had lots of technical and route advice for us.  
Putting on our rain suites before departure
Our vending spot was right next to Tim Baer's, which worked out well because he was selling Indian motorcycle prints and we had prints too.  He turned out to be a great guy and had also traveled on his motorcycle many times, so he had lots of great advice as well.  Tim's dad Butch was there and asked us, as many people did, if we really thought that our old Honda would make it across the country and back.  He then proceeded to tell us about a cross country trip he and two friends did on 1920s Indians a few years back!  

So on Sunday afternoon, we suited up and got ready to begin the trip.  Crossing the Hudson River would be a milestone to me.  Indeed any time we were to cross a major river I made sure we got a picture or took note of it.  So now, after a tumultuous running-up, the trip really was ready to take off, and on time at that!  We were packed, suited, and filled with plenty of advice and knowledge from people we'd met at Rhinebeck.  We took a couple of family pictures before leaving (see top of page) and boarded the Honda.  
Our plan was to ride as far as the Delaware Water Gap and find a campsite there for the night.  This would be a reasonable distance to complete in the late afternoon and we wanted to see a bit of that area as well.  So off we went to our first wild campsite!  

That's how the trip began.  It was exciting, scary, and hectic, but we were able to leave on time and are glad we did.  Next I'll probably describe the luggage for the bike and some of our routines that developed throughout the trip.  Then I'll move on to describe what we saw and did in Pennsylvania over the first couple of days.  
So that's it for now. 
Good night! 
Jeremy B

Monday, August 2, 2010

.....And we're back!

On Friday, July 30, 2010, at 10:30 PM EST, the sleepy streets of Pittsfield were disturbed by the sound of a certain 40 year old, air-cooled, inline 4 motorcycle that had just carried its two weary passengers and all their camping gear on a 10,000 mile exploration of America.  After a 350+ mile day, the Honda was driven into its garage for the first time in 7 weeks, where it was finally able to rest happily indoors for the night.  
Its riders, having become accustomed to sleeping in the open air for all but five nights since leaving home, were reluctant to forgo setting up the tent, and to instead sleep indoors.  We've found that to sleep in a bed in a bedroom, where things like wallboard, curtains, and glass insulate the sleeper from the sounds of insects and birds, the subtle changes in light that occur as the planet rotates, and, perhaps most importantly, the fresh air, is less to our liking.  Despite this drastic and change of lifestyle, we slept well and woke up happy to be home.  

The trip is over, complete, and we are settling in to a normal, planted lifestyle.  We survived without any major breakdowns, crashes, dangerous encounters with wildlife or humans, or any other incident we were warned about before leaving.  The bike suffered a few mechanical ailments, most notably the total loss of the use of first gear, but was nevertheless able to complete the trip in one piece and with little trouble. 
For two days in Memphis, I was down with food poisoning the worst case of which I had ever had myself or heard of any person having.  Juli nearly came down with heat exhaustion on an eight-mile hike through a canyon in Utah.  But we came through unscathed and excited to do more traveling in the future.  
Our route was shortened by a few thousand miles about halfway through.  By the time we arrived in southern Colorado, we realized that, at the pace we were going, we would not have enough time to get out to California and the Pacific Northwest.  But we were having so much fun taking in the sights and not worrying so much about how far we'd have to go that day, that we did not want to speed up our pace.  So instead of continuing west from Utah to California and up, we simply went north to Yellowstone to shorten our loop.  Hopefully we'll make it to the west coast on another trip, maybe even on a motorcycle! 

It wasn't until yesterday that we managed to get all 16GBs of pictures from the camera onto my computer, and I have yet to view and remember each picture.  But anyway, we're here, and plan to fulfill our duty to write a thorough and interesting account of it.  
Right now, my plan is to write an entry for every two to three days, complete with images and an occasional video.  I'll also give explanations about our camping gear, how we packed it, our methods and the route we took.  I feel I must apologize to all those prospective readers who were told they could follow along by reading our updates from the road.  Over the course of the trip we found ourselves stopping to use a real computer only occasionally.  For some reason, there simply was not time for writing.  I now wonder how those motorcycle journalists who write those wonderful articles that inspired this trip actually find the time to write enough while on the road to compose the great articles they do.
So while Juli and I get organized and I think about how best to describe to you all the great things we saw, here is a collection of photos from the trip.  These range from the first few days in Appalachia to the southwest, to the Rockies and the East.  Enjoy them, and please come back to see the rest over the next few weeks!

Our first weekend out was spent at Rhinebeck, NY, where Juli sold prints at a vintage motorcycle meet
Our bike along the Blue Ridge Parkway, America's gift to motorcyclists

Writing postcards from a laundromat in Floyd, Virginia
Julianne learning the Appalachian way of life

 The Blue Ridge Again:
The Blue Ridge again.  Imagine over 450 miles of this.

Beware of the bad sound on this video.  Our little camera does not respond well to air pressure.  This is Parson's Bridge Road in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  

Mississippi delta farm country.  The blues was born here.

Memphis was hot, I was sick, and the bike suffered a shifting failure, but it's still a neat place!
Oklahoma was flat but beautiful
Western Oklahoma going into New Mexico was awesome

The bike really struggle to get up here! 

A grand canyon indeed!
Arches National Park

Our campsite outside of Moab, Utah, along the Colorado River
Grand Teton was just amazing
Buffalo in Yellowstone.  Kind of frightening really
Our campsite in the Badlands of South Dakota

Bighorn Sheep in the Badlands

After a flood in Iowa

Buffalo, NY.  Man I liked the West.

Me fitting a new chain in a parking lot outside Rochester, NY

Bennington, VT.  Juli was happy to be back in Moose country after booking it across from Chicago

And the morning after.  The bike is dirty now.

I hope this is a good introduction and encourages you all to come back and see more.  
Good night, 
Jeremy B

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quick Update: It's 90 in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and getting hotter

Luckily we're indoors.  The little town of Lawrenceburg has a lovely library with air conditioning and computers.  Today we got up around 7:00 eastern standard time and left around 8:00 from Chattanooga.  We stopped for coffee and scones at a great coffee shop in Winchester, a nice town with a picturesque town square made up of old buildings.  We hope to make it to Tupelo, Mississippi today, but the hot weather makes for slow progress.  Leaving early was a must, as the temperature was nice and cool, almost bearable until around 11:00 Central Time.
That's right, somewhere along here we crossed time zones! 

There's a little byte of an update for y'all, as they'd say down here.  Here's the jist of what's happened over the past month or so since my last posting: 
-I crashed
-I finished my school semester
-Juli got her master's in art
-I changed the color of the bike
-We prepared for the trip
-We all went to the Rhinebeck Grand National Supermeet in the Hudson Valley
-We left from Rhinebeck on Sunday June 13.
-Rode through the Delaware Water Gap, saw the Martin Guitar factory, Gettysburg, Maryland, Harper's Ferry, Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Charlottesville Virginia, Smokey Mountains, Chattanooga, and we're on our way to Memphis via the Delta.

So I'd like to post tons of info on the last week or so, but won't be able to share much yet as we're not near computers often.  Don't worry, there are tons of great pictures and videos to share already!

We'll check back in with where we are and what we're doing soon.

Jeremy B

PS: A friend asked a very good question about what to do when we get very bad downpours.  Well the cute answer is that we get wet, but we really are prepared.  We each bought a two-piece rain suite that's designed to be worn over your protective gear.  It consists of a jacket and pants, so our feet are still exposed, and we're working on a solution to that.  The bike is fine in the rain.  Anything moisture-sensitive is sealed off. 
Now, in a really bad downpour, we will mostly not ride and wait it out.  We've already had some of those on the trip, and they are no fun and dangerous.  A light to moderate rain, though, is fine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shakedown Street

On Sunday, April 11, I finally finished getting the bike back together!  It had gone through a lot of repairs the last few weeks, and a lot of Grateful Dead music, jazz and blues as well.  I took a short shakedown ride yesterday afternoon, and it didn't seem like too much has shaking on Shakedown Street!  I wanted to check the handling and the alignment of the forks and wheels after making all of my repairs, and while our road was rather bumpy, the bike seemed to handle just fine.  I'll know more when I open her up a little and ride at 60mph.  That, by the way, is probably going to be a common cruising speed on the trip.
So because of all this mechanical work, I haven't done much mapping recently.  For those of you who weren't tuned in, we have a route planned from here to the western end of Oklahoma.  From there on I have no maps made up, but I do have lots of ideas and suggestions to look at.  I don't want to overdo it, though, so I am trying to leave plenty of room for interpretation.

Anyway, here's a list of what I got done on the bike over the last few weeks:
-Cleaned and re-adjusted carburetors
-repainted exhaust headers
-New Chain and Sprockets
-New rear wheel bearings
-New rear tire and tube
-New steering head bearings
-New fork seals and oil
-New front wheel bearings
-New front tire and tube
-New front brake pads
-New front brake lines (braided stainless steel)
-Speedbleeder installed on caliper
-New coils, plug wire and caps
-New points plate assembly (although I re-used my old points)
-New Horn
-Cleaned and repainted speedometer, tachometer, indicator panel, triple tree, and caliper

I think that's everything.  I also did a 3,000 mile tune-up as per the Honda manual.  The stuff on the rear of the bike wasn't too bad, but the front bearings, fork seals and other parts required pretty serious disassembling the of the bike.  It got the the point where I looked down at a garage floor littered with countless fasteners and major pieces of the bike, and questioned my faith in myself as a mechanic!  It's pretty unsettling to see your bike in that condition.  Remember that part of Star Wars where C3PO got taken apart in the cloud city?  You see him on a conveyor belt with all his parts strewn about and he looks down and says "oh my!"  It was a bit like that.  See the picture.

Well thankfully I employed good workshop skills, carefully separating and labeling parts and taking plenty of pictures.  The old Honda is back together now and running better than ever!

Setbacks:  I went through two rear tire tubes before finally getting the third one in without puncturing it.  I ruined one of the rear wheel bearings during that process.  Thankfully our local Honda dealer had keeps this stuff on hand.  They were sympathetic to my tube-ruining problem and gave me a slightly larger size that wouldn't need to stretch over the rim as much
Also, the upper triple tree broke on me.  I think it was missing a spacer and was already cracked, so that when I took it off it fell apart.  Ebay came to the rescue and I got another one from some salvage yard in Maine.

The gauges look nice with their new paint.  It is truly surprising how good those green gauge faces look.  Every 70s Honda had them, and they all fade and peel to the point of looking ridiculous.  For some reason, mine are immaculate.  The tachometer had to come apart to replace a screw, and I still need to redo the rubber cushioning around it and the speedometer.  I had made some cushioning material out of one of my many scrap tire tubes, which worked fine.  I just need more of it.

So the bike (mostly) ready to go in terms of mechanical condition, but there are a couple of things to button up.   I will register it this week hopefully ride it often for the next two months.  I want to dial it back in before the trip.

In an effort to not turn this into a technical blog, the next posting will be on route ideas for the West!  We need to figure out a good way to see everything in the Southern Rockies, which is kind of a huge task.  But I'll tackle it again this week.
In addition to school, gigs, work, and all the mechanical work on the CB500, I've had another distraction to contend with: my birthday present to myself.  It's a 1970 something Honda CB350.  Actually it's a CB350 frame with a  CL350 engine.  And a wheel and some forks.  So it's a frame, engine, wheel, and forks.  It's kind of like a fetus of a motorcycle, which will grow and develop the rest of its body next year when we get back from the trip.  I already have lots of  dreams for this "bike" and am very excited for a project that I can do from the ground up!  But until we get back from the trip, maybe even longer, it will reside in my incubator, the black van.

I found a website called "Youtube" recently and uploaded a short snippet of a video of a 1971 Honda CB500 idling happily in the driveway.  See it here:

So long 'til next time!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good Old Days of Motorcycling

Readers be forewarned: This posting will consist of me rambling on about motorcycles.  This morning I was reading a thread on a motorcycle forum about whether you should believe in the "good old days" of motorcycling. The premise was that when an old timer tells you stories about their early days of motorcycling, you shouldn't believe a word they say.  You know the type of story I mean.  Fishing tales.  "When I was 18 I had a (insert bike model) and did 108mph up the driveway with my girlfriend on the back...."  But, said the forum members, old bikes were slow, had bad handling, terrible brakes, and broke down frequently. Today's most basic, affordable motorcycles would run circles around the average 1970 BSA, Honda, or Harley anything.  
And I believe it.  Today's average 4-cylinder, 600cc street bike, the successor to bikes like mine, are lighter, twice as powerful, and have fancy triple-disc brakes and sophisticated suspension.  One of these bikes would leave my old Honda so far behind in any kind of race that its rider would have time to completely master the ukulele while waiting for me to catch up. 
Well, I don't disagree that motorcycles have come a long way since the 70s, but do today's digitized, computerized motorcycles really offer that much improvement over the old bikes like mine in terms of real world usability?  To me, not really.  

Reason numero uno, maintainability.  I can run through the entire Periodic Maintenance chapter of my official Honda CB500/550 shop manual in a half hour.  Timing, cam chain, valve adjustment, chain adjustment, all of it.  On some modern bikes, it can take a half hour to remove all of the body work necessary to begin the maintenance cycle.  Its simplicity is the source of its reliability.  Allow me to elaborate (cue collect sigh and eye roll).
The CB500, though released in 1971, is firmly planted in 1960s technology, mostly technology developed by Honda.  Overhead camshafts, for example, were common in racing during the 1960s (see pic of a 60s Honda RC166 DOHC 6-cylinder racer), but rarely found on production road bikes, Honda being the exception.  Their glorious little twins, the Dream, Superhawk, and the Black Bomber all employed overhead camshafts.  These bikes were screamers.  The CB450 Black Bomber gave a serious challenge to the British 650 twins, then the kings of the road.  The 305 Superhawk was capable of 105 mph and 9,000 rpms!      
Working turn signals, electric start, and disc brakes were all major innovations for Honda, but were really 1960s innovations.  This, for me, is why the CB500 is the perfect blend of old time mechanical simplicity and modern reliability and convenience.

The handlebar controls, for example, were relatively amazing in 1971.  The electrics on Hondas worked every time because the name "Lucas" was nowhere to be found.  But the controls were made of cast aluminum, not plastic like today's bikes.  These metal controls  have already survived one or two tippings of the bike while under my ownership.  Likewise, the hydraulic disk brake, another innovation, is operated by a cast aluminum master cylinder with an aluminum reservoir, not a plastic urine container you will find on today's bikes. 

The Honda also has carburetors, four of them.  Old technology, yes, but the linkage connecting them is a minor engineering marvel.  Precise ball and socket joints with springs and rubber parts for insulation ensure smooth, even movement of all four slides.  Today's bikes (mostly) have fuel injection,  which is honestly superior to carbs in every single way except simplicity.  But carbs can be tinkered with, and don't require the extra sensors and wiring necessary for fuel injection.  These carbs are slide-operated, meaning there is no need for vacuum diaphragms, meaning less hoses and simpler carb maintenance. 

The Honda has a single overhead camshaft with rocker-operated valves, not a shim and bucket setup.  I can adjust valves with a feeler gauge, 10mm wrench, and a screw driver.  No need to carry an array of shims.  Also, I can get to the valve rockers by simply removing screw in caps, and there are only 8 of them!  This is a very easy job that can be done on the roadside.  You don't need an enclosed lab environment with special tools for this.  Just look at this picture.  Have you ever seen such a symmetrical, simple, elegant engine design?

The Honda has an electric start, which is flakey on our bike, but it also has a kick start!  And, as you can see, it's right on top of the engine, easy to remove.  The 83 Yamaha Virago Juli and I rode for a whole summer had an electric starter, but no kick start!  One day we took it to the Sandwich Notch and went for a hike.  When we came back the battery was dead ( I think some kids had done a little meddling).  How the hell do you start a bike with no kick starter if the battery dies?  Well, you bump start it, which took several tries resulting in repeatedly pushing that stupid bike up a steep hill.  No such need on the Honda.

The Honda has a cable operated clutch, throttle, speedometer and tachometer.  I'll never understand why some motorcycles now have hydraulic clutches.  With a cable, there is no master cylinder, no fluid, no hydraulic lines, and no slave cylinder to worry about.  These would all require maintenance and eventually rebuilding.  With a cable there is a cable!  You adjust the tension once in a while and lubricate it.  Thats it.  As for the other cables, most bikes still have cable throttles, but many bikes now have electronic speedometers and tachometers, meaning more wiring and sensors to worry about.  Not to mention the electronic devices themselves, which must have a shelf life.

The fuel supply to the carburetors is gravity fed.  No fuel pump or vacuum petcock.  Just two hoses running from the bottom of the tank to the carbs.

The Honda has a battery and coil ignition fired by points.  Now the decision to keep the stock points system was not taken lightly.  I was considering a Dyna S electronic ignition, but in the end decided to save some money and deal with points, which means periodically setting the gap and timing.  I don't mind this maintenance, and if Robert Pirsig is to be believed, the task will actually enhance my life and the trip.
Now, points are a dated and obsolete technology, but they're another one of those things that can be fixed easily on the side of the road.  There is currently a 2005 Triumph at our house with a burned out ignition control module, rendering it immobile.  That could not happen on the Honda.
Also, that poor Triumph, after 18,000 miles, has a warped front brake disc.  The front brake disc on the Honda, operated by a single-piston caliper, is nearly 1/4" thick and made of stainless steel.  These are not particularly desirable features, but my Honda also has around 18,000 miles and is 34 years older, and that thick disc is still fine.  It will, however, be getting new pads.

And, by the way, the battery, all of the electrical components like starter relay, fuse, voltage regulator, etc, are easily accessible.  If there is a problem, it can be found in minutes.  The air filter, as well, is right beneath the flip-up seat.  Nothing is hidden on the Honda, and this is not by mistake.  Soichiro Honda was a genius, and he wanted his products to be reliable and simple to work on.  The SOHC Hondas are certainly designed with ease of maintenance in mind.  Honda also made sure that a solid parts supply was available to owners, which partially exists today.  I can go to the Honda dealer and order most parts.   Only big items like seats, gas tanks, side covers, etc, are no longer available.
So besides those details, there's the obvious stuff like air-cooling as opposed to water-cooling.  Water-cooling was found on the big Suzuki triples of the early 70s, and later on Honda Goldwings, but really was not commonplace on motorcycles until the 80s.  Air-cooling has its advantages, the obvious being the lack of a bulky radiator, extra hoses, a water pump, and rubber parts, all of which would be questionable after 40 years.

One time on Top Gear, the lads took a trip through Botswana in three separate, self-chosen cars.  If one's car was to break down, they would be forced to drive an air-cooled VW Beetle for the remainder of the trip.   Hmm, old school, air-cooled, dead simple car, as a backup to more modern cars.

All of these simplistic features add up to a reliable machine.  There is simply less stuff that can break on a 1971 Honda.  Yet, the bike is equipped with modern enough features to make it fast enough and reliable enough for practical use today.  The perfect blend of modern features and old school simplicity, making the Honda easy to keep running.

Of course, the valid counter-argument is that a new bike, while more complicated and expensive to maintain, doesn't need to be maintained as much.  While that is true, I am interested in long-term longevity as well as ease of maintenance.  I often wonder what the "vintage" bike market will be like in 40 years.  Will people be riding and enjoying their 2010 bikes?  With the number of computers, wires, hoses, hydraulics, etc, I really don't think so.  I think we will deem bikes like that as not worth fixing and maintaining.  More trouble than they're worth.  But maybe people were saying that about my Honda in the 70s.  "Who's gonna deal with four carburetors and electric start?"  Well, it turns out they have held up just fine.  Regardless, I am fairly certain that nobody will uncover a 2010 Honda CBR600 that's been sitting for years and be able to revive it the way we can these old bikes.  And I'm pretty sure nobody will revive one in hopes of touring on it, or using it daily.

 I am reminded of a short ride I took last summer with my dad and his girlfriend.  We were on a country road somewhere near home, dad was in the lead on his 2004 Royal Enfield Bullet.  Trish was behind him on her 90s Harley Sportster, and I was in the rear on the Honda.  It dawned on me that the order of new bike to old bike was exactly reversed.  The Enfield, though made in 2004, was nothing but a continuation of a 1950s motorcycle with modern controls and lights.  The Sportster, well, those were designed in the late 50s and despite having disc brakes and electric start, have used the same engine design since.  The Honda, made in 1971, with it's inline, SOHC engine, was the most technologically advanced bike of the bunch!  That's not to say that the Honda is more reliable than these other two, but I'd say it's as reliable, and even more fixable.

So, while you may not believe the wild stories about how fast and amazing old motorcycles are, you should at least consider how usable and enjoyable some of them still are.  We're enjoying ours, and wouldn't trade it for anything!

Here's to Spring!
Jeremy B

Monday, March 8, 2010

Southern Hospitality-Not Just a Catch Phrase!

The past couple of weeks have been pretty map-intense.  I have a few more days planned, but am a little stuck when looking further West than Oklahoma.  
In the last posting, I described our route down through Appalachia on the Blue Ride Parkway, into the Smokey Mountains.  Recently I've found some possible routes from there to Birmingham, Alabama, through Mississippi and up to Memphis, where we'll cross that big river.  

Here's what a route from the Smokies to Birmingham may look like:

In Birmingham, I plan to visit the Barber Motorsports Museum, which has a huge collection of vintage motorcycles. This stop seems appropriate since I am a vintage motorcycle lover and will be on a vintage motorcycle while in the neighborhood. We'll then visit the town of Birmingham, rich in history. 
From there, we'll cross West across Mississippi, through the delta, home of the blues. This is another sort of mecca for me, as I am a blues loving guitar player. Most of the great blues men from the 1920s to the 1960s hailed from this relatively small region. We'll be passing through BB King's hometown of Itta Bena, for example. 

We may even stay in this eccentric inn, which is no more than a collection of delta-style shacks, like the ones our blues heroes might have lived in before they gained hero status.  
Many of the towns in the delta claim have a blues history museum of some sort.  Many claim to be the birthplace or home of some great blues man.  Consequently, we'll have to limit our sight seeing in the delta, since I could accidently spend the whole trip here, seeking out these places.

Here is what a route across Mississippi to Memphis may look like:

Once again, I got many of these ideas from asking around on the adventure rider forums.  I simply put up a rough idea of where I want to go, and people responded with great first-hand knowledge of scenic routes and places to catch. I want to emphasize how friendly and hospitable the people from the south have been in helping with my trip planning.  I had nearly twenty replies to my last inquiry, asking about getting from Birmingham to Memphis.  Nearly all of these replies included an invitation to stay over for dinner or crash at their house, or to use their garage for maintenance/repairs, or to assist with mechanical troubles!  And all replies included great tips on good roads and interesting sites.  These people seemed genuinely friendly and eager to help us along.  Don't believe me?  Read my thread yourself! 

Now, getting across Arkansas is going to be tricky.  No, not because there are "dry" counties, but rather because the state contains the Ozarks, and judging by maps and pictures, it looks impossible to pick a route and stick to it.  Here is a route that was suggested to me.

Part 1:

View Arkansas Day 1 in a larger map

Part 2

View Arkansas Day 2 in a larger map
As you can see, there are many great looking roads going through the Ozark Mountains.  We will most likely make a route through here as we go, using the above maps as a guide only.  I know it will be too tempting to take scenic bypasses when coming through here, so I'm going to leave room for options.

After Arkansas, it's West through Oklahoma.  At the west-most point of Oklahoma is where I run into a brain cramp.  I just haven't figured out how to navigate New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.   I do know that our next stop after these states will be the Sierra Nevada region.  Julianne and I also have a long list of towns and national parks we want to see here.  We may cross into the Rockies around Pueblo, CO, and make sort of a circle down into Arizona and back up through Utah, and west from there.  It's too soon to say.  I think we'll definitely try to pick a general direction through these areas, since it's such a big chunk of the country.  More on this later as I figure it out.

In other news, I got lots of parts recently for the bike and have been plugging away at it, replacing old crusty stuff that I don't trust.  Last weekend I put in brand new ignition coils, a points plate, spark plug wire and caps, and a new horn and fuse holder.  I also replaced various rubber seals and o-rings on the bike that were old and cracked.

This past weekend I began installing new bearings on the rear wheel, new chain and sprockets, and a new tire.  Of course, I screwed up one of the bearings, and put a puncture in the tube while installing the new tire.  So now I need another new tube and one wheel bearing for the rear wheel.  I'll also get a new front tire, as the one we currently have won't last another 1,000 miles.

And, a reminder to other motorcyclists, check the condition of your rear tire frequently, especially if you frequently ride double.  This thing was just plain dangerous:

Hopefully by the next posting I'll have these repairs completed so I can tackle the front of the bike, which is getting new brake lines, pads, fork seals, and a tire.  I also have to make the rack to hold our side cases.  I hope to get this stuff out of the way as soon as possible.  The weather in New Hampshire this weekend was amazing, and the roads were clear.  Having the Honda in so many pieces, un-ridable, on such a nice day, felt like getting caught with my pants down!  
So long 'til next time.  And remember, the weather's warming, so watch out for motorcycles!  
Jeremy B