Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Size Matters

 Forgive my suggestive title. It is relevant and I promise to get to that in just a moment. Before I do I want to chat a bit about the oppressiveness of blank pages and the weight of judgement. I ran face first into a big puddle of self loathing recently. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe it wasn't. The result was that I gave myself a set of rules. 

I decided my blog couldn't be a place to vent emotion anymore. I couldn't give myself permission to talk about the dark little corners of my life, thoughts, and feelings. People were watching. That was nothing new. If you put something in the public forum, no matter how terrible it is, people will partake. Humans are naturally voyeuristic. I do not mind the vulnerability of sharing myself long as it doesn't lead to a bunch of real world stress. 

The catch is that the people watching knew me in the real world. They were talking. They were drawing conclusions. Many of the assumptions they were making were incorrect. Suddenly, I was running into drama in the real world because I let off steam on the internet. I absolutely loathe having to explain myself. I wanted to keep writing, but it couldn't lead to controversy. 

That doesn't work. It makes the cost of being honest and open with my blog too high. My solution was to shut up. I took down dozens of personal posts. I decided to keep the blog to write comic reviews and other things less personal to my life. In the case of this post, I am going to write about my latest experience with motorcycles.

Censoring myself has had an interesting side effect. I am already an introvert who works at playing the role of an extrovert. I have gotten very quiet not only on here, but with people in the real world and even in my mind. My inner narrator doesn't have as much to say as he used to. Censorship does that to me. I don't know why. I am sure it is something I will overcome. As I started putting together the idea for this post I realized that the narrator may be quiet right now, but he looks forward to moments when there is something valid to say. I learned something about motorcycles and riding and I am excited to share it.

So... Size Matters. Suggestive? Yes. I admit that. True? Absolutely and even more so when it comes to how you ride a motorcycle. Hehe. I just intimated that both size and how you use it matters. 

I want to talk about me before I get into the bikes. It may not seem important at the moment, but it really is. I am 6'4" tall. In my riding career I have weighed between 275 and 350 pounds. I am not a small person. This HEAVILY (no pun intended) influences my riding style, my gear, and what types of motorcycles I like to ride. 

Honestly though, some of my riding experience has just been based on the motorcycles have been available to me. Back in 2005 I had decided I wanted to learn to ride. I had a good chunk of cash and I had my eyes on a Harley Davidson Sportster. Unlike most 25 year old men I reached out to my parents to get their perspective before making a purchase. My mother flipped out. Over her dead body I was getting a motorcycle. This would become ironic later. My Dad gave me a whole spiel about how he used to ride, but when you have a motorcycle you are always either riding with big ugly dudes or by yourself. It is dangerous. Blah, blah, blah. 

I listened. I did not get a motorcycle. 2018 rolls around. My Mom died. A bunch of bad personal stuff goes down in the fall out of her death. Imagine my shock and surprise when my Dad says," I am getting a motorcycle." 

Knowing what I know now, I think Dad made a fantastic decision. Motorcycles can help cure stress and depression at the low cost of a bike, some fuel, and some riding gear. You feel cooler than you really are. This is doubly true in my case. I am cursed to be among the uncool no matter how amazing a car I drive or bike I ride. I am ok with that. My Dad on the other hand can pull off cool old biker dude fairly well.

Dad cruised through craigslist and found a 1984 Honda Shadow 500. 

I named the bike Tracy after the bitch burned me. Tracy was the second bike I ever rode and other than being nearly 40 years old she has been a complete pain in the ass. I named her so appropriately. Still Dad loves her, and one day we will get all the bugs worked out. 

The 1984 Honda Shadow really falls into the category of UJM. That is Universal Japanese Motorcycle for those of you not familiar with the acronym. It describes a bike with a standard seated riding posture. The rider is sitting upright. Their legs are roughly positioned in a seated position. The controls are at a mid height so that you aren't laying on the handlebars or reaching up like ape hangers. 

I personally like the UJM or "standard" riding position quite a bit. I will also say that I am quite a fan of Honda motorcycles. While I don't much care of Tracy since she is old, cranky, and doesn't work very well, if she got her shit together and cleaned up we would get along just fine. 

I had a lot of fun following Dad home the night he bought Tracy. It was March. It was Cold. Dad hadn't ridden in 30 years or so. It was exciting. I thought to myself and later said to Dad," You know I would be happy to learn to ride with you." I was surprised to find out Dad was listening. 

Just a few weeks after Dad bought Tracy he came home with another bike. This time it was a 2010 Kawasaki Ninja 250R. 

Beautiful bike, huh? 

The Kawasaki Ninja is a bike of legend. The practically exude sexiness and a sense of speed. The Ninja (which I think I named at some point but I don't recall) would become the first motorcycle I ever rode. Puttering up and down the drive way was fun. I dropped it in wet grass trying to learn to ride. At basically no speed I cracked my tailbone. Riding quickly became addictive though and in spite of a hurting backside I got back on the bike. Yes, over my Mom's dead body I turned into a motorcycle rider.

The Honda and the Ninja took like vastly different motorcycles. The Honda is styled as a Standard bike while the Ninja defines sport bike. Even though the Honda's seat is at 30.3 inches and the Ninja's seat is at 30.5 their riding posture is different. 

Sport bikes take the standard posture and lean it forward about 15 degrees. Your upper body is angled forward and I noticed it put more pressure on my wrists. My feet also were more in line with my hips and it was naturally comfortable for me to angle my toes down. Did I mention I wear a size 13 shoe? Long feet, small pegs, and leaning into curves make for scuffed boots pretty quickly. 

I almost instantly preferred the Ninja. Haha. I remembered her name. I called her Irene after Irene Law of the Ninja Gaiden video game series! 

I liked the Ninja because of the aggressive posture, the sportier feel, and how fun it was to ride. By the time I took a motorcycle education and safety class and got my motorcycle license I was riding well and hard. I absolutely loved the Ninja and really was decided on a sports bike riding style.

I bought gear. 

I rode a lot.

I bought more gear. 

Dad and I conquered the Tail of the Dragon a few times. We put some fun miles on the bike. I started getting more and more comfortable riding. I leaned into more and more curves. I started to want a bigger bike for a couple of different reasons,

First, Dad's Honda Shadow was made in 1984. So are Ashley and Whitneigh, but they are holding up better mechanically than the motorcycle. I'm a 1980 model myself. I wouldn't trust myself to be ridden at high speeds around tight curves either.  The Shadow started to struggle. The Ninja was Dad's so I came up with the idea that I would buy my own bike. 

We took a few more rides on our current gear. 

Biking over a gravel road up and down a mountain made me think I would like an off road bike. Riding with a passenger when I was already heavy made me think I wanted a larger displacement bike. Oddly, enough neither of the answers I was about to come up with would solve both problems. I also wanted something taller. 

I went Patriotic and bought Sharon Carter. Yes I named her after the Marvel hero/ Captain American's girlfriend. That might have had something to do with the Captain America helmet I was wearing at the time. It was nice to match.

Sharon was a 2012 Honda CBR250R. I was sort of talked into the idea that Dad and I having the same sized bike would make our rides a bit more evenly matched. Let's ignore the fact that both the Ninja and the CBR just kicked the tires off that poor old Shadow. 

I admit Sharon was my first taste of the excellence of Honda. The Shadow wasn't a fair taste due to its age. The CBR felt stronger than the Ninja. It felt faster. When Dad and I rode together I had more take off than the Ninja. We never really raced because we are not idiots or kids, but he had trouble keeping up with me off the line. She felt like she could support me, but if Whitneigh rode behind me then the Honda felt a little weak. 

Whitneigh is a tiny little thing. Throwing little more than 100 pounds on the back of a bike is noticeable. Both the Honda and the Ninja could handle our combined weight with the Honda losing less take off but them both losing significant top end. At the time taking family rides was one of the few times we could all get along. 

Dad once again found an answer. He bought a 1984 Yamaha 750 SECA. I rode it home on a cold, rainy day and was super impressed with the bike's condition. The next weekend I threw Whitneigh on the back of the bike and Dad chased us outside of Gatlinburg and into North Carolina. 

It was a good ride. We hit the hills coming out of Cherokee as night fell. That is when I found out that my light bulb behind my speedometer was out. I rode by feel, but I had only been riding around a year and I had been riding a 250cc sport bike most of that time. If I was doing 60 around the curves of that windy road I would say it was slow. I pulled over at the bottom of the mountain. Whitneigh apparently had experienced the speed a lot differently from the back of the bike. We waited on Dad for a bit less than 10 minutes. He pulled over and said he had given up trying to keep up with us. He lead the way home so that we didn't speed too much. 

I like the Yamaha a lot. It is a super well maintained bike for its age. It also gave me the scariest experience I have ever had on a bike. I left work one night around midnight and was about a mile from work when I realized I didn't have a headlight. I am 40 miles from home and by all rights I should have stopped and called for help. I am stupid though so I rode the bike home without a headlight. I understood that the people flashing their lights at me didn't understand that I didn't have the ability to turn on my light, but it did almost nothing for my ability to see the road. When the kick stand sensor stopped functioning I started thinking I needed a bit newer motorcycle. 

A few months later Dad decided that we needed newer bikes anyway. I wanted a Kawasaki KLR 650. I figured it was a big enough displacement to carry me, gear, and any passenger I would want behind me. At the dealership Dad fell in love with the Kawasaki Versys 300X. I wasn't as sold having my heart set on the KLR 650, but I also was not paying. Dad bought two identical 2018 Kawasaki Versys 300X. He kitted them out with side cases. We would go on to add a camera system, auxiliary lights, engine guards, a top case, and relays. I added ground effects to mine. 

I love the Versys 300x. It is an absolutely fantastic motorcycle. It can handle all the off road riding that I am willing to do (which isn't much at all) and still gets fantastic mileage when I ride it to and from work (my most common ride). I have put about 11000 miles on Barbara Gordon (you cannot tell me that doesn't scream Bat Bike) and I am just as pleased now as the day that we rode them off the lot. 

The thing is the Versys knows I am there when I ride her. That 300cc displacement is amazing. It will pull my fat ass just shy of triple digit speeds which is WAY more than I need. It can do quick off the line. I effect the mileage she gets compared to Dad's Versys. If I were a smaller rider I probably would be totally satisfied with the Versys 300. As it stands I sort of wish I had pushed for the 650 or even 1000 cc model. I have just been keeping Barbara Gordon extra well maintained and hoping to really get the miles out of her. 

In the two years and three months since we got the Kawasaki's I have frequently contemplated what motorcycle I would get if I got another motorcycle. The Yamaha XJ750 Seca sold me on larger displacement. The fun thing is Dad is more into motorcycle fever than I am. 

He bought a 2015 Suzuki Burgman 650 Executive. Yes. It is a scooter. It also absolutely terrifies me. I have ridden it three times. All three of them were out of necessity. The Burgman is a monster. Sure it is only 650cc but every cubic centimeter is tuned to freaking go fast. Triple digits isn't any kind of strain even with me riding it. I had the thing up to 110 with both me and Dad on it. That is almost too much power and speed. 

Naturally the Suzuki is also the most comfortable thing (well it used to be) in our drive way. It had a great seat. Dad upgraded it from that great seat to a $1000 Corbin seat which might as well be a couch. He also wired in an actual cruise control and put on heated hand grips. Oh and he has a skirt to enclose the rider from the chest down for cold weather riding. At some point ridiculous and awesome get married and settle down to be ridiculously awesome. I think Dad tipped that scale. 

The Scooter isn't for me. It is a damned grocery getter. There about the same amount of space under that glorious leather seat as there is in the trunk of my Hyundai. I'm exaggerating but not by much. The thing really does frighten me because it has all that power and is an automatic. Those controls are something totally other. It always makes me miss my clutch. Also, the platform is fairly wide and I don't like having my legs spread quite that far apart at a red light. 

Dad also bought a newer Yamaha cruiser. I believe it is a 650. It looks like a Harley Clone. It is all black paint and chrome. It is a beautiful bike. 

First time I rode it I tore the clutch out of it. I am not kidding. I made one trip down to the local gas station which is 3 miles away and the clutch burned out. Now, I have a long standing tradition of every time I drive or ride something belonging to Dad it breaks down. So I HATE that bike.

Stranding me on the side of the road never wins my love, but I feel super awkward on those cruiser style bikes. To me, they handle like hardened dog shit at low speeds. I am also just uncomfortable with low seat heights. 26 inches doesn't sound that much shorter than 31 inches, but offer to take 5 inches away from most men and they will agree with me that size matters. I don't care if you have 12. You don't want to drop down to 7. 

But I digress...

The shorter riding stance makes things really awkward. I am a little more than an inch taller than Dad and it doesn't seem to bother him. Maybe I am weird. 

Then there is the heel toe shifter. I don't know why that witchcraft came about, but I think my dyslexia makes me want to do it backward. I figured out quickly to just use the toe and not think about the rest, but I also have some big feet and that heel piece was just involved if I wanted it to be or not. 

Lets just say that bike is not for me. I respect that Dad loves it. I want to appreciate it. 

Imagine my surprise when over Halloween weekend we rode down to Atlanta and bought me a Honda ST1300. 

For the record my ST1300 looks about the same size as my Dad's scooter there in the background. 

The ST1300 has a 1300cc (actually I think it is 1249cc but...) engine. I could gush over the mechanics of this thing for pages, but I realize that most people haven't even gotten this far in the post because of my motorcycle nerdiness. When I took the Honda (she doesn't have a name yet) I instantly felt the difference in torque that a bike that can hold me comfortably makes. Size matters.

The Honda ST1300 really doesn't even notice I am there weight wise. It puts me in a sports rider position and is amazingly comfortable. I have serious respect for the power of this bike. I haven't attempted to see the top end or even have gone up hard through the gears. I'm not quite scared of it, but I realized I don't have enough experience riding a bike this big to play hard... yet. 

I know I could put a passenger of my size on the back of the Honda ST1300 and it would manage us. I bet it wouldn't be strained. I can load down this bike with all the gear I need to film, record, camp, and write without having to worry about anything. 

The funny thing is that on my ride back from Atlanta even though I didn't really press the bike, I did ride between 85 and 95 mph. You would think that would absolutely suck the gas. On my Kawasaki it would bring me down to between 25 and 30 mpg. The Honda averaged 41 mpg. The bigger engine just isn't under as much of a strain as the small efficient one when put under the same work. 

Looking back I should have understood that without having to see it in action. Now you know why Size Matters. I have spent the last few years not knowing what I was missing. Give me the larger frame, larger displacement motorcycles from here on out!

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