Not an adrenaline junkie, but a flow junkie.
That’s a good thing.
Not an adrenaline junkie, but a flow junkie.
That’s a good thing.
My old Garmin nüvi 1490LMT is being whiny. Please don’t die, little black box of wonder. I mean, please don’t die until after the trip is done and I have recovered all of the data from you. Please?
Seriously, this poor thing is beat and I think this might be its last real big trip. The US one I have is much faster, except for when it estimates motion and then has to recalculate. It’s a good thing I really do not like tomtom and I really do love BaseCamp. Otherwise…. Garmin….. What are you doing? Your OS sucks!
Well, I arrived, at least. My gear bag did not. Thanks to Delta’s FlyDelta app, however, I at least know where it is. In Atlanta. Oops. It made it onto the next flight over, though. That is good.
One problem: my tank bag is not going to cut it mounting-wise. Off to polo to see what they have. I’ve already decided to try to grab Gericke’s cool top-opening gear roll – 75 litres of waterproof goodness that is easier to access than my 90l end-opening roll.
I do have all of my electronics. I carried those, my helmet, and my jacket on the plane. I figured it might be a good idea to bring the expensive stuff on my person.
Still to do today – check on the rental and do that shopping.
This is a theory of mine: the problem with drivers in the US is our road signs: they have too many words on them, and our population’s declining literacy levels are making this a challenge for compliance with the posted placards.
I lived in Germany for a while, where the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals holds. Vienna describes a group of symbolic signs nearly devoid of text that control the safety aspects of roadway behaviour in the EU and other areas of the world agreeing to the convention. Notable in not agreeing is, of course, the US. I found that after a period of adjustment, the signs were easy to interpret and that I could respond almost instantly to them, because visualization was all that was required. I did not have to process them. Well, “no parking” and “no stopping” took a while to sort out, but hey, who is perfect? By the way, do not drive your Volkswagen Cabriolet off of the dock and into the river. You will likely get wet.
A typical Vienna convention sign has a ground color, an accent color, a shape, and a symbol. For example, the speed limit sign is circular (command) with a white ground (information) with a red outer ring (prohibition) and a number in the middle (actual speed limit). A parking area sign is square (informational) with a blue ground (permission or recommendation) and a white P (parking area designation). All of the signs follow a few rules and language independent. Two faves are these, which are actually related.
For example, consider the signage on the south side of the intersection of Coolidge Highway and Big Beaver Road in Troy, MI. The right lane must turn right, and is signed as such. Compare this to the Vienna sign, which is a simple blue circle with a white directional turning arrow.
A few of our colleagues have gotten the point, and signs like this one are starting to show up. The arrows require little to no processing to understand, and the only is completely superfluous, likely a throwback to the wordy original.
I could go on at length with comparisons, but I think you already get the picture (pun wholly intended).
So, why am I bothering about this? My older son is taking his introductory driving course here in MI this month. He’s learning about road signs and such, and he’s noticed the peculiarities of our wordy signage already. One is something the Germans call the “Schilderwald”, or forest of signs. It happens when a large number of signs are erected close together. Examples in the EU are numerous, and typically hilarious as the signs often conflict with each other. It is not unusual to find people taking photos, a non-trivial number of which will be used to contest traffic citations.
In the US, we persist in using signs with words on them. In English. Imagine a Schilderwald using our signs, and how long it would take to read all of them. The pictograms are enough work! Thankfully, this mess is only for pedestrians, who have time to stop and process it.
So, let me get up on my soapbox here and argue for conversion to the Vienna Convention. It would make life easier, better, and much more fabulous, being that everyone would have a shot at driving sanely, regardless of their literacy level. Imagine a US where everyone can interpret the signs and follow directions. Where even the most distracted texting driver has to only look up from their phablet for half a second to catch the sign, know what it means, and do what it shows. Where reading of road sign text will never more distract anyone from the road, or whatever the heck it is that they are doing on it. Paradise is what it would be.
At the same time, maybe we could finally convert to metric, too? Please? They already have the signs for that made up.
About the two signs at the top, which I playfully call the caterpillar sign and the picket fence sign. The caterpillar sign indicates an ungated railroad crossing. And, you guessed it, the picket fence indicates a gated one.
I read this blog post over on EliteDaily and thought, wow, what an opportunity for some semi-satire…. I decided to stop at the first point, though, because it’s such an incredibly good one.
Seriously. You’re always saying you can’t figure out what we want. Well, Pinterest. Even a cursory trolling of our Pinterest boards will tell you. Pinterest, then shop.
The Pinterest phenomenon is so cool. When I look at my pin board (don’t, it’s boring), I realize that yes, it’s not very big or very girly. But that’s ok, because anyone who wants to know about what I like will quickly discover that the fastest way to my heart is GS parts. Or whole GSs. We post what we like, simple as that. And I like BMW bikes. And VW parts. And watches with carbon fibre bits. And so on. A quick peek at my GFs’ boards shows the same thing – a very clear picture of their hearts’ desires, from hot pink hand-spun alpaca wool to kitschy dolls to AMC body panels. But it’s all there, out in the open.
How guys are missing out on this very clever method of getting to understand what women want is beyond me.
(This is my first attepmt to blog from my iPhone.)
Earlier this year, I picked up a well-used 2001 Kawasaki Super Sherpa, the oddball midsized street legal dirt bike that never was a big seller due to not really being big enough for most guys and there not being that many girl dirt riders out there. Hence, accessories are hard to come by. To remedy the complete lack of storage, I decided to make a tank bag.
Here are some pics.
Edit – a friend asked me how easy it is to fill up the bike with the bag in place. Not hard at all. The safety strap allows me to swing the bag out of the way without losing it.
I wrote this maybe ten years ago, and it still stands. I’ll be deploying this in a few short weeks when my 15YO gets through with the state mandated minimum driving school. In the world of motorcycling, we call this process “learning to operate the controls”. It is very much different than riding, because riding assumes that you can operate the controls (relatively) instinctively. Driving is the same way – you need to learn to operate the controls first. Interestingly, as I read back over what I wrote, I realize that this is also exactly how I learned to operate the controls when learning to ride. I guess I knew something useful even back then!
From the VWVortex – the original thread has long since disappeared into the bit bin, but I did manage to find a quote of the text. I figured it might be helpful to someone, so here you go.
How to Teach Your Fianceé to Drive Stick Shift
Take her to a parking lot with not too many light poles and at least one speed bump. This is a 30 minute drill.
Have her start the car and then let off the clutch until the car rolls. Do this about 10 times – clutch in, clutch out to roll. This will teach her the friction point.
Next, have her add gas at the friction point. This will teach how to launch without driving into the neighbor’s yard. She should accelerate to 10mph each time. Clutch out, add gas, 10mph, stop.
That night: teach her the pattern. Have her practice it while she’s watching TV or whatever. 1-2-3-4-5-6-R. Over and over until she wants to kill you. For added misery, add the clutch drill – Clutch in. Clutch out, gas on. Brake on, then clutch in. Brake off. Cycle back to clutch out, gas in and repeat over and over.
Next day: Speed bumps. 30-45min.
Do the friction point and 10MPH drills for a bit. Then have her roll up to a speed bump. Stop. Do the gas drill with trying to stop at the top of the speed bump. This is the creep up a hill drill. This is the hardest drill.
After 20 minutes of that or if she starts crying, do a bunch of non-running pattern work. Engine off. Clutch in, shift, clutch out.
When she grasps that, do some 1-2-3 shifting around the parking lot.
That night: more phantom pattern/foot work.
Next day: Hills. 30 minutes max. She will be tired after this. Do all drills for 15 imnutes of driving total. Then go find a hill with a moderate grade and ZERO traffic.
Forward launches up hill: First let her roll back several times to get used to the sensation. Then start with the launch mechanics.
Backward launches up hill: Same thing.
That night: more phantom pattern reinforcement.
Next day: Parking lot drills, hill drills, 20 min max, now it’s time for traffic. Use your best soothing voice.
3 hours of seat time and she will be safe to drive it.
The idea behind the phantom drills is to build muscle memory. This means your feet and hands know where to go without you thinking about it. You can do this out of the car, and should do it all the time until you are comfortable with the techniques. Yeah, it looks stupid while you’re doing it, but when you don’t have to think in traffic, you will be thankful for it!
I previously wrote about moving over from my factory lowered BMW F650GS to a standard CBR250R, and how it inspired me to re-evaluate my dependence on getting my feet down at stops.
Recently, I rented a stock NC700X for a long weekend in Germany, and it seemed so natural to ride with my feet kind of, sort of down, but not like on the F, which, honestly, I tower over. A good inch or so between me and the seat when standing. Pushing the NC up and over with my left leg and finding the ground with my right foot eventually seemed like what you do. In fact, when I hopped on the F after coming home and my right foot hit the ground while the bike was still on the sidestand, the light bulb really started to glow. When my foot dragged on the ground as I was coming to a stop, there was no longer any question. My bike is too damn low.
What I’m finally figuring out is that it is actually harder to balance a bike at a stop when your knees are bent. The knee bend introduces a degree of variance, some instability, basically extra flexion, into the system. The NC was delightful at stops, partly because the center of gravity is ridiculously low, but also because my legs are straight, and that extra flexion is not there. There is a natural stiffness. I did have to plan some stops, looking to make sure I did not ride up on top of a ridge, rather instead down in the groove so that my full foot would be placed solidly on the the ridge, but even that lost its appeal after a while. I finally came to peace with the idea that taller is actually better for an experienced rider.
I place the experienced rider caveat there, because as a novice, I needed the mental and emotional security of both feet solidly planted on the ground. This is not a bad thing in and of itself – there is no shame in wanting to be comfortable as you grow into riding. The important thing for me is that I have been able to grow out of it as I’ve added experience.
I’ve begun the process of assembling the parts necessary to convert my F from low to normal. I may never make it to Dakar heights, but getting to normal is a big and welcome step. As I master normal, I will open the door to a new world of bike choices. This is cool.
Ah, well, it was good. Actually, it was great. I mentioned the differences between the NC and my F, and one of the biggest ones didn’t hit home until I did. My F is too damn low. More on that in another post!
I took the bike on a planned route in the area of Germany known as Lipper Land. My riding partner from my Alps trip joined me – we enjoy riding together alot. It is not so easy to find other ladies to ride with, so while we are not perfectly matched, we suck it up and ride on! We left from the dealership and headed to her place to group up and load the bikes. Once again, I have to remind: Never take your gear without taking a tank bag. Just take it. Preferably a strap one, as bikes like the NC have no metal up top. I forwent a pair of sneakers, but did manage plenty of socks and underwear. We rode out to find our little place to stay, the Hotel-Café Waldruh, Rüheweg 8, Holzhausen.
In Lipper Land, we started the day with a gluten-free birthday cake from my GF- how cool is that. The ride started near the Externsteine, a rock formation that is truly impressive. From there, we headed to the Hermanndenkmal and then off to an artillery range. This was truly neat, although we were too nervous to stop for photos there. The varied terrain was outstanding and the signage was quite threatening.
From there, we rode north and up and around several cities about 30km north of Detmold. The winding roads were fun and we enjoyed quite a bit of forest riding. This was more than welcome as temps were over 30°C both days. We came around the eastern side of Lipper Land and found the Köterberger Biker Treffpunkt, one of hundreds of little stops that welcome riders with a hot meal and clean bathrooms, along with plenty of parking and a nice view (and this sweeeeet Guzzi!). Then, it was back to our little hotel.
The route home took us on familiar roads through Westphalen. We stopped for lunch, then some sweets later, then for a break in the shade, then at another Bikertreff, the …..
Getting the NC in motion was so easy and riding was so pleasant that I stopped everywhere to take pictures. It started with the Global Multi-Grab from ADVrider.com – a game where riders take photos of their bikes with a list of objects or locations. I started with a list of farm-y stuff, and ended with a holiday list, which I grabbed in short order.
First, a haybale man.
Then, irrigation in progress and a tent.
A community picnic.
On monday afternoon, I rode down to Köln to visit a friend, and then rolled back into my hotel about 15 minutes before all hell broke loose in Düsseldorf. The worst storms in ten years blew in and fortunately left the bike untouched. As I looked out the window, the midwesterner in me said “wow, that looks like tornado weather”. And so it was – the transit system was shut down for almost three days, with very few trains running at all due to the number of trees and wires down. Thank goodness for lane splitting and filtering!
I returned the NC700X to the dealer with a bit less rubber and a lot more smiles. For a weekend rental (or even for longer, seat issues aside), I’d go for it again. The turn-in process consisted of a quick walkaround by the gentleman I did the original paperwork with and a quick “thank you, we are done here”. What about the extra 200kms? “Have a good day. Email me if you want to do this again. I will arrange everything for you.”
What a birthday, hmmm?
Having learned to ride in Germany, home of so many twisty roads and so friendly to bikes, I find nothing beats a weekend over there with a bike. Work travel over a German holiday weekend (that coincided with my birthday) afforded me the opportunity to have a long weekend, so naturally, I needed a bike.
One thing about Europe – bike rentals are easy to come by. Not always cheap, but practically every dealer and even some of the car rental shops (Sixt) will gladly rent you a bike if you can show that you’ve had your license more more than a couple of years. I emailed around prior to arrival looking for a G650GS, but no one rents those, and a lowerred or low-seated F700GS also was not materializing. So I called up my old Honda dealer and asked what they had. I was surprised to be talking to the same guy I bought my CBR from! He was surprised, too, and accidentally gave me a pretty ridiculous price on an NC700X for three days, with 900kms included. Extra kms would cost me 0.25€ each, no major disaster. As Germany is similar to the US in that for every hardcore rider, there are probably at least five bikes that see 500kms per year tops, the limit is not that low.
I went and checked out the bike, mostly to make sure it was not ridiculously tall like the F twins. Or, at least, tall for me. My F single is low from the factory, and that has its pluses and minuses. It’s made me profoundly lazy, for one thing. The CBR was a bit taller, but eventually the shock wore out a bit and my feet were right back down on the ground. Enter the Super Sherpa, which is supposed to cure me of this high anxiety, but it’s still in pieces in the garage. There was that bruising hour with the XT225 in the end that my right calf is still telling me about… So now I want to ride, and my potential rental is not quite a tippy-toe bike, but it is balls-of-the-feet or slide-over-a-bit-to-the-side high. Hmmmm…
I decided to go for it.
I got a Darkness Black NC700X that was clearly a trade-in. It had a chopped off exhaust and carbon fibre vinyl accents. 13076kms on the odometer. Very sticky tyres, stickier than I would normally choose, but hey, it’s a rental. Beggars can’t be choosers. Honda’s Rent-A-Bike program (yes, it’s actually named that) allows dealers to take bikes out of inventory and tag them for use as rentals. The program has a price for everything from a 50cc scooter all the way up to the Goldwing and includes all of the street-legal bikes and a few dirt bikes. You need only find a dealer with the bike you want available for rental.
The NC700X is, in my opinion, Honda’s take on the old BMW Scarver. A weird form factor with the tank under the seat and a ‘frunk’ – a locking storage bin where the tank would normally be. Like the Scarver, the battery is up top, but the weight is all down low. Honda laid the engine almost completely on its side, bringing the center of gravity of the bike to unheard-of lows. Why is that important? It makes the bike effortless to balance, which frankly makes calling it a taller bike a complete and total farce. It balances like a 300 pounder. You feel the real weight of the bike when you need to push it around, but otherwise, you’d never know it was there.
The frunk is far larger than I expected and packs quite a lot of junk. Had I had the brains to bring my tank bag with, I could have easily gone out for three or four days between the two containers. Two and a half was pushing it with minimal packing. However, for everyday grocery getting and whatnot, it’s probably not that bad. I easily fit two tall 1l water bottles in along with my GF bread and clothes. Actually, if I didn’t have so much auxiliary crap, I probably could have made a few more days worth of clothes fit.
It took me a good 350kms on the bike to get my posture to a stable and comfortable place. The seat sucks. Coming from my Farklelounger BMW, a Honda is a rude awaking for one’s butt. And thighs. I don’t know if it possible to have less butt-friendly seats than the stock Honda ones. I did eventually figure out how to perch on it to minimise pain and maximise whole-body comfort. The NC is billed as a tourer, a style of bike I have no experience with. I found that rather than the usual dual-sport sitting up I do, a more standard position gave me the ergos to ride pain-free and well.
Riding was interesting. I felt the weight of the bike as I pushed it through tighter curves. Through sweepers, it was effortless. Slow speed manoeuvers were tentative, but I attribute that more to being aware of my unsure footing and really not wanting to drop it.
I’ll have more on this experience in a few days, after I return the bike and decompress. Ride report and pics, too, as I was able to hook up with with my riding partner from the Alps trip to ride all over LipperLand. We hit some of our favorite roads and biker stops on the way home, too.