Finding a group to ride with

It’s hard to find others to ride with when your riding friends start disappearing.  The right answer was always in front of us, which at first was a failure…but years later, became the right decision.  Trying to find a like minded riding group is actually pretty hard, as people have different interests when getting on a motorcycle.

Some people only use their bike to save money on gas on their work commutes.  Others like to ride and explore as much as possible.  Most of the people I know, and have ridden with in the past, are perfectly happy to spend a lot of money for a Harley Davidson motorcycle…and use them as bar hoppers or to ride 50-100 miles in a day and be done with it for over a week.  Others concentrate on putting a lot of money into their bike by getting custom paint work or adding every touch of new chrome that they can…and then focusing on trying to win other’s approvals by winning trophies at bike shows.

For a couple of years, I kept pouring money into my bike as well.  A person can spend literally tens of thousands of dollars to make it prettier…but somebody will always have a better looking bike, and I personally realized I don’t need plaques on the wall to tell me I have a nice looking scoot.  So, I gave it some thought, about what I bought a bike for, and remembered it was to ride, and explore.  So, the pretty purchases stopped…and I started buying items that enhanced its safety and comfort for longer rides.  And I’m much happier with the direction I’m using the bike now.

To each their own.  You pay the bucks, use it however you want.

To find riding friends, you just have to identify what kind of riding you mainly wish to do, and find like minded friends.  Harder that it sounds though, and it’s taken years to find the right group that was a fit for my wife and I.

This group we’ve met and are friends with now are from the local H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) chapter.  Much different group of people than what we had met back in 2004 at our first H.O.G meeting we had attended though.

I had then purchased a Sportster, and was turned off by the “better than thou” attitude and comments we received that we encountered at our first H.O.G. meeting appearance from the people we met in the thirty minutes prior to the start of the meeting.  They rode big touring bikes, and we had the smallest of the HD’s offerings, all that we could afford at the time.  We had walked out, and started riding by ourselves.  Over time, we became riding friends with a few others…but since the recession, some have moved their households to where the economy was more favorable to them, another lost his bike, and the closest couple we rode with decided to use their off-work hours pursuing other interests with different friends and our friendship drifted to saying the “courtesy” hellos and two-minute fence talks when we found each other in our backyards at the same time.

Tired of riding the same roads over and over alone with the wife in northern Indiana, I gave the H.O.G. chapter one more chance.  My wife had no interest in going to the meeting, so I went alone after chatting with one of their members on another motorcycle forum…HDforums.com.  Aaron’s a laid back guy, with a fun attitude, and a love of riding.  His wife, Etta, is full of fire…quick witted, sarcastic, gets everybody laughing so hard that it hurts, and rides her own motorcycle.  My kind of people…I knew I had finally found like-minded people.  They made me feel welcome, and introduced me to dozens of people who also made me feel like family.

Our local H.O.G chapter has literally hundreds of people as members, with around a half-dozen new members joining at each meeting.  You have to be a national H.O.G. member ($35 a year), and the local membership costs $12 a year…but gets you 15% discount in the store, so it pays off on the first big purchase made afterwards.  There’s no way to get to know everybody closely, but the internal group inside the main group that I somehow came into contact with are fast becoming friends.  I talked my wife into attending the following month’s meeting..,and she quickly was welcomed as well.  We have now done a number of rides with the group, all over the Hoosier state.  Each invite for the next ride has us gladly moving home plans around to be able to join them on their adventures.

Try the local H.O.G. chapter, or another motorcyclist group if you are interested in finding others to ride with.  My wife and I still enjoy our alone time together, but we’ve both come to really enjoy riding with like-minded individuals, who’s passion is sharing the road with their friends.


Getting ready for the next ride…

Been back for a couple of weeks, and the whispering winds across the asphalt calls me yet again to find curves and discover places unknown.  Riding friends of ours have invited us along with them to tour the hills of Kentucky for four days…and what could we answer with…but, “when do we leave?”

This will be the wife’s first vacation this year, as she had to “hold down the work fort” while her co-workers were enjoying maternity leaves with the new members of their households.  I came home from the BRP ride to find out that she’s already confirmed our participation, and I’m looking forward to this trip as well.

I’m told that 17 people are going…on 14 bikes.  Sounds like most will be riding solo on their own bikes, with a few of us doubling up with our spouses who either don’t ride, or prefer to sit back and let their spouses do all the riding, while they enjoy the passing scenery.  It’ll be a leisure ride, a couple-to-few hundred miles each day, touring the roads and making plenty of stops that guarantee something for everybody.

On the itinerary are stops at the KY Vietnam War Memorial, Daniel Boone grave, Coal Mine museum, Loretta Lynn museum, Cumberland Falls (supposedly one of the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi in the US…besides Niagara of course), and some great hotels.  I enjoy tent camping like I did on my last big ride, but it will be nice to have a whole trip done with the comfort of plush beds to sleep in each night.

Should be a great trip…leaving Friday, July 1st, returning the evening of July 4th.  I’m sure we’ll see plenty of fireworks through all the towns we pass throughout the weekend…or while we are sitting on the patios enjoying some cold refreshment after each day’s ride is finished.

Of course, postings of the ride will be done here…for those that are interested, as well as for my own ride journal purposes.


Reviews of items for motorcycle tent camping

In preparation of my BRP motorcycle trip, I spent months reading reviews on many sites (Amazon, REI, SunnySports, etc) on many different items that I would need to get to tent camp throughout this trip.   Everybody has opinions…and nothing was found that appeased every user.  However, after researching to the point I was comfortable, I made my purchases.  These are my reviews of the items I took with me.

Tent – Eureka Apex 2XT, 2011 model.  This is a free standing tent, that allows for the rain fly to also tie down if the wind gets bad.  The older model is yellow in color, the 2011 model is orange.  Found on sunnysports.com for under $85.  The older model got great reviews, and the 2011 had a few updates incorporated into its design.  This is advertised as a two-person tent…but it would be really, really tight with two average size adults.  It works perfectly for one person, and the gear they want to keep in the tent with them.  It easily withstood some long thunderstorms, and kept all the bugs out when closed up.

Comes with two vestibules…excellent for keeping your boots outside, but protected from any rain.  The vestibules caused the only minor problem.  Condensation could form on the inside, which would cause your back to get a little damp when reaching out to unzip it if it was closed up tightly.  Many tents have this problem, and it wasn’t so bad a problem that I will be searching for another tent myself.  The rain fly comes with it, but the matching footprint (ground tarp) doesn’t.  That’s an additional $20-30 purchase, depending where you get it.  I’d recommend the ground tarp for extra protection of the tent.  I was able to squash the tent, rain fly, footprint, stakes, and fiberglass poles into the included sack with no problem…and it fit inside my Ultra Classic’s tourpak with no problems (had to go diagonal though).  Just as a reminder…you don’t fold a tent up…you stuff it into a sack; it lasts much longer.

Inside of tent stayed dry, it has corner pockets for things like your cell phone, and it allows good ventilation.  Each “door” has two zippers…one for a privacy flap, one for the opening of the door.  Without the privacy flap closed, you could see into it from the outside, although it wasn’t easy.  Great for ventilation on the hot summer nights, and for watching the stars as you drift off to sleep.

Sleeping Bag – Big Agnes Hog Park 20 degree sleeping bag, left side zip, long.  This allowed a right handed person to open it easily when inside it, the long accommodates the large sleeping pads from Thermarest very easily.  In fact, the Big Agnes bags have a sleeve built in for the sleeping pad to slide into if desired.  The bag kept me very warm, even with temperatures down to 48 degrees or so.  Haven’t tried it in colder temps.  It’s also more of a traditional rectangular shape, instead of coming down to a point at the feet, which would drive me nuts since I like a little room down there as I move throughout my sleep.  I’d recommend this.  Got mine from gearforadventure.com for $89 shipped.  I even called them in advance of the online order, and they were really helpful in selecting the right bag.  Their prices are some of the best around.  Also, if you call or email them and ask for a discount code, you’ll get one for at least 5% off.  Nice touch.

Sleeping pad – Thermarest Trail Scout, size large.  Got it from Backcountry Edge, for $60 – 5% coupon. This pad was comfortable…more so than I thought it would be.  Open the valve, let it self inflate for 20 minutes or so.  Blow 2-3 extra breaths in, close valve.  I slept on some very hard ground with small rocks and sticks that I had missed picking up before setting up tent…and I didn’t feel any of them under me.  I’d recommend this one over the $150+ other choices out there.  Rolls up small too.

Cookware set – Brunton Vapor cookset.  Very nice set, comes with fry pan, cooking pot, and large bowl. Stacks perfectly tight, all non-stick surfaces.  I found the non-stick to be ok quality, but not great.  It got a scratch through it relatively easy, but could have just been a weak area.  I’d buy it again, it cleaned up very easily, the food cooked even in the pot and pan, and the handle that comes with it was easy to use and secure.  Got it for less than $30 at REI.

Coffee Press – GSI Personal Java Press.  Another nice set…everything stacks inside the large cup very easily.  Was easy to make coffee, and it cleaned up pretty well also.  Under $19 at gearforadventure.com.

Cooking utensil set – MSR Alpine Utensil set.  Really liked these…comes with spatula, noodle strainer, and large mixing spoon.  All fold down easily, and cleaned up very quickly.  Spatula didn’t melt when using it with the frying pan; of course I didn’t let it just sit in there either.  Under $11 at sunnysports.com.  Stored it inside my cookware set with no problems.

Eating utensils – Brunton My-Ti titanium folding utensils.  EXCELLENT!  No stupid spork, and the spoon is a spoon and the fork is a fork…and both fold down small, but opened up, they are secure and will not collapse.  Comes in a little carrying case, and it easily fit inside my cookware set.  Very happy with these, can’t remember where I got them, but under $15 at most places.  Stored it inside my cookware set with no problems.

Salt/pepper shaker – Tried a few, and ended up with a keeper with the GSI Outdoors ultralight salt and pepper shaker.  A one piece unit that stores both, it’s small, and easily stored in one my alcohol stoves that I used.  Secure, does not leak when moved around.  Like this one a lot, less than $3 at sunnysports.com.

Camp pillow – Slumberjack Slumberloft HP camp pillow, size large.  Hated this.  Waste of money.  Even thought it’s a large size in description, my laptop is twice as wide.  Don’t waste the money.  I also had brought along a waterproof stuff sack that held an extra home pillow, which I used every night.  Your home pillow stuffs down really small with one of these sacks…and goes back to regular size when you unpack for camping.  Again, don’t waste the money on this item, I gave away $7 for this.

Plate – MSR deep dish plate, size large.  It’s plastic…but it takes a beating, and it fit perfectly over my cookware set to strap them all together.  Easy to clean, and it easily held both regular foods and hot liquids like soup just fine.

Stoves – Like tents, this took the longest to research and make decision on.  A lot of good ones out there, from MSR, Coleman, and many other companies.  I ended up trying homemade alcohol stoves, from the user “ShadyRascal”, at advrider.com motorcycle forums, and he calls it the SteverStove.  They worked great, and run on HEET, which burns clean and doesn’t contaminate food when cooked with it.  These small alcohol stoves boiled my water, cooked my meals, and made breakfast foods like oatmeal and eggs/bacon with no problems.  Like all other stoves, it requires a windbreak around it to keep the fire concentrated on the pans.  I paid under $20 for two of them shipped from that user, and I had other campers around me that were amazed at how well it worked versus their $100 stoves.

Stove windbreaks – You can make one from foil or anything, but I’m the type that doesn’t mind paying for something that is proven to work, especially if it’s not too costly.  Bought two kinds, both under $10. First, the Sterno folding stove.  Hated it.  Hard to keep it stable, and one of the sides folds IN at an angle, preventing the stove from being flat inside it.  Going in the trash.  Second one, Coghlan’s Folding Stove, found at Walmart and many places for a about $7.  Worked very well, held the cookware stable, easy to set up.  However, hate the painted finish, since it bubbles up when getting hot.  Take the paint off, especially on top where your pan sits, and it’s perfect cheap solution.  Held pounds of weight, wasn’t worried about pan sliding off or it collapsing.    Sterno or the steverstoves listed above fits under it very well, and folds down back into it’s original cardboard box very nicely, which I kept for transporting it and keeping it folded down without need of a thick rubber band.

Sea-to-Summit waterproof stuff sack – LOVED this.  I got caught in quite a few rainstorms while riding, and everything inside stayed perfectly dry.  They come in different sizes, I got the 25L one to hold my sleeping bag.

Walmart dry bags –  I got the 35L or 40L one, can’t remember off hand.  Dirty cheap, under $10 easily.  It kept everything dry in some serious rains.  I actually kept the Sea-to-Summit bag, my full size towels, my home pillow, and a few other things in it.   Like any stuff sack, you’ll give your arms a workout pushing everything down to get even more items in it before you seal it up.  You can see it on the back of my bike in some of the BRP pictures here on this blog, it has a red bottom and foggy-white color rest of the bag.

Well, there’s some reviews of items I used on my motorcycle trip in case anybody is interested.


BRP Trip – Final thoughts, and conclusions

Some ramblings about my latest ride, to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a number of recommended riding roads in the area.

The overall trip – Simply amazing, awesome, inspiring, restful, and enjoyable…pick any of these words…each fits perfectly.  It was on the bucket list of rides to do, and I enjoyed it so much, I’m delaying other riding vacations to do this again next year if the all the circumstances fit into place like it did this summer.  I cannot recommend this area of riding enough to anybody else…if you have been thinking about it, do it.  You will NOT be disappointed.

The miles – Looks like 2,412 miles total for this trip.  Not too shabby, the hardest part was slabbing it down there on a extremely hot day…the rest of the days of the trip were very manageable.

The bike – Had a few problems.  The after market amp I had installed last year failed.  Turns out that testing it back home, the amp is fine…I just have a blown speaker that was tripping it into a electrical short failure.  New replacement speaker is on the way.  I have almost 15,000 miles on my upgraded 4-speaker and amp system.  I can’t complain about it at all, it’s the first problem I had with it, and it’s an easy fix.  After talking to Harley and Vance & Hines about the Fuelpak, it was decided that the unit’s computer may be failing.  They sent out a replacement next day, and I received it the day after that.  It’s already installed, and it seems to be working fine.  Will know more this weekend when I get more miles on it.  It originally came with a 90 day warranty.  They wanted to test the old unit for their R&D needs, so they agreed to send out the new one at no charge, as long as I send the old one back for testing.  Sounded like a great deal, and they were very nice on the phone about it.

The brakes on the bike needed replaced, about 18,000 miles on the bike now.  Brembo HD stock brakes, backs were completely shot, fronts probably had another 4,000-5,000 miles on them but replaced them too.  New fluids in all three holes, and noticed a little metal shaving in the transmission fluid.  Don’t know if it was from the breakdown problems, so will keep an eye on it and flush it out in another week or so.  Right slip-on muffler had come loose, and one of the smaller gauges’s back lights went out on the trip…easy fixes.  I have Dunlop E3 tires instead of the stock ones.  Every touring bike should have these…great on wet roads, don’t track on bridges or tar snakes, and handled the curves at fast speeds magnificently.  Also installed Khromeworks +2 Sweepers handlebars on the bike before leaving…and love them.  No more back or shoulder pain.

The camping gear – Guess I should do some blog postings with reviews of the different stuff I took.  I didn’t have much, so most of the stuff was acquired after doing a lot of research over the winter on the different types of items.  I’ll do some reviews here as I have time over the next couple of weeks.  Most worked better than expected, some things I never used, and some things went into the trash.

The photos – I took two cameras…one really I guess.  Canon 850IS, and also used my iPhone 4’s internal camera (didn’t use zoom feature on the iPhone).  The pictures on the blog are low quality due to size restrictions.  All I can say is the Canon does a great job, and I’m very impressed with the quality of the phone’s camera as well.  Both came out very clear in their original larger sizes saved on my hard drive.  I’d recommend either for a cheap alternative to a more expensive SLR camera with tons of lenses.  I got about 200 pics using one battery on the Canon, and 180 on another.  It’s probably 5 years old…and still works great.  All together, I took almost eight hundred  photos between the two devices. It was hard to figure out which ones to put on the blog…and some are so special, I’m keeping them for my wife and I only to view.

Overall, the food was great most places I stopped.  Southern hospitality abounded, which is a big change from the area I’m in…where people are more in a hurry, little more disinterested in strangers, and keep their focus narrowed to matters at hand.  Everywhere I went, people were friendly…and many strangers came up to talk, offer assistance, were available to explain things, and overall very good people.  I met quite a few people from the north that loved the attitude so much, they moved down there permanently.  I can definitely see why.

So, enough rambling for now.  For you riders…ride your own ride…and thanks for reading through all of this.


BRP Trip – Day 9, Part 3 (Final Chapter)

So many ways to get home to the Indianapolis area from Front Royal, VA.  I had decided to slab it to get home hopefully later this day.  The GPS and the maps I had showed numerous possibilities, with all kinds of combinations from two-lane state highways to interstate slabs.  Looking at the maps, I saw that one route would take me through a couple more states…states that I could put on my “rode through that state” completed list.  The route chosen would take me from Virginia, through West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, back through West Virgina, Ohio, and then back to the Hoosier state.  Not too much longer than the quickest way I had found, and the estimated time still showed an arrival in less than twelve hours from where I currently was.

The road path wasn’t too spectacular once I got on the interstate out of Front Royal.  The miles flew by quickly, and breaks were taken as needed at rest areas.  Once I got into Maryland, the worst problems on the road started.

On the interstate, I was cruising along at a steady 80 MPH, following the faster traffic in the passing lane.  Day dreaming about the trip, the bike suddenly lost all power and a very loud explosion (back fire?  Broken gear?), bringing me back to reality quickly.  With no power, the bike lost speed quickly, and I was able to get off to the breakdown lane without freaking out any other drivers.  There was no throttle, the speedometer and tach had dropped to 0 each immediately at the power loss, and I was at a loss of what may have just occurred.  Turning the bike’s electrical system off, I sat on the bike contemplating my next move.

Turn the bike on, and try to start it is always the best first choice.  Doing this, the bike sprang to life, and getting good throttle responding as I gun the engine in neutral, I decided perhaps this was a fluke and felt comfortable entering traffic again.

Around 15 minutes later, same situation…cruising along at a high rate of speed in my bike’s sixth gear, an immediate loss of power again.  Once more, I went into the break down lane.  Time to do a quick inspection on the side of the road.  Fuses and battery connections checked, no leaks found, shift through the gears, all smooth.  However, the best I can guess is that there is a problem with the transmission in sixth gear since both times I was in this gear when power failed to the bike.  Easy enough fix…limp home in fifth gear, which I can comfortably do at about 70 MPH with no problems.  Would take me longer to get home, but it was a tolerable solution.  Too bad this wasn’t the problem, and it almost cost me more than just a little lost time.

On the road again, cruising along at a steady speed in fifth gear, everything was running normally for about twenty minutes or so.  I had just gotten comfortable with the situation, and was in an area where traffic had picked up heavily.  Both cars and tractor-trailers were passing me like I was standing still, even though I was following the speed limit for the area.  Behind me, a tractor-trailer had grown comfortable following me at a not a very far distance, and I was thinking about the distance to go until I pulled into my own driveway.

Suddenly, like before, power disappears as the loud noise I had heard previously returned with a loud report. Immediately with no power, the bike slowed down faster than I could react…causing the semi driver behind me to slam on his brakes.  Thankfully he was paying attention, with the small distance between us when things were normal, it left almost no room for avoiding a problem.  I could hear his brakes locking up behind me, his tires sticking in one spot to the road surface…all I could think of was getting into the breakdown lane…now.

I swerved hard into the breakdown lane still coasting quickly down the road, to avoid the tons of weight that surely would have taken me out had I not blindly gotten out of the way of the semi.  The breakdown lane was full of exploded retreaded tire, debris, and stones.  Hitting many of these, I fought to maintain the control of the bike as I went into an emergency braking stop of my own.  Years of riding had brought about experiences avoiding the idiots in vehicles around me that didn’t pay attention, and this experience brought about a natural response on how to handle the bike.

Stopped, and alive, I simply put the kick stand down on the bike, which was pulled over almost into the grass next to the interstate.  I got off the bike, not hearing anything…even the wind, walked into the grass, and just stood there looking at the bike wondering how I had managed to leave Murphy finally behind me, and live to see at least another minute of life.  I stood there for an unknown time, completely devoid of thought, and I don’t recall anything but just staring at the bike.  What brought me back to reality was the voice.

Coming in my direction, I could see a very ticked off person…who turned out to be the semi driver that was behind me before.  He was yelling as he walked quickly towards me…not totally in anger, but more of a confused question that he kept repeating…”What the hell happened back there?” he kept asking as he got closer.

I found out that he had been looking through his maps as he was riding, looking for his own distance to his next rest location, and as he would tell it, “I just got a weird feeling, and put it down and paid full attention to the road”.  Seconds later, I had lost power in front of him, and his quick response probably saved my life…and caused him to nearly jackknife as he slid around me as I went into the breakdown lane.  We talked for minutes…and I explained the loss of power to him.  He mentioned he shouldn’t have been following me so closely…and I mentioned I should have figured out my original problem a little better.  We shook hands…knowing we both had an impact on each other’s lives…and together, we just created a story that we will be able to tell over beers many years later with other people would meet.

I saw two miles ahead an exit off the interstate.  The bike restarted, and going no faster than second gear, I stayed in the breakdown lane…flashers going, in an attempt to find some place to do a more thorough inspection of the bike without getting ran over.  I took the off-ramp, pulled into a local-chain gas station, and pulled off near the back of their lot.  Going inside and discussing the situation with the manager, he was fine with me doing whatever work I needed to…as long as I bought something.  Needing a jolt of caffeine, a cold Mountain Dew went outside with me and was my assistant for the next ninety minutes as I inspected everything that I could, make a call to the HD dealer 90 miles away, and tried to troubleshoot the repeat issue.

The HD service personnel was extremely helpful on the phone.  Through troubleshooting, being put on hold on numerous times for him to gather feedback from other techs, and from trying different things and providing results back over the phone, we limited the offending part down to the V&H Fuelpak.

The Fuelpak is a device that was installed two years previous.  It is a fuel management system for motorcycles, basically a small computer that connects to the ECM (primary computer module) of the bike and help control the fuel flow properly to help with power, gas mileage, and helps eliminate the bike from running too rich or too lean.  The Fuelpak must have been tripping itself off, causing immediate loss of power, and forcing the bike, which had electrical power, to not receive fuel.  There is a safety mechanism inside the ECM and the Feulpak that allows the bike to limp along at 20 MPH when the either computer malfunctions…something that wouldn’t have helped me based under the prior circumstances.

The final offered advice from the HD service department was to disconnect the FuelPak entirely, and put the configuration back to stock.  I did this, put everything back together, thanked the tech profusely, and told him I’d be calling shortly for a tow if it the problem happened one more time.  I restarted the bike, and got back onto the interstate, making sure to stay in the slow lanes, and getting out of the way of those behind me that were too close.  I created the riding buffer that would keep me safe should the problem happen again…which for the next 500 miles, did not.

Long story shortened…the bike made it home fine in sixth gear from that point on…around five hundred miles from last incident area to driveway.  No other problems since the FuelPak was removed, and I’ve ridden it a couple of times since getting home.

So, that’s my trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I may just do one more posting regarding the BRP…a epilogue of sorts of things learned, an overview of the bike’s performance and what was found out on arrival back home, and some other tidbits for the curious.

If you’ve wanted to do the BRP and surrounding area on a motorcycle, do it.  It’s an amazing area, with tons of hills, mountains, curves, switchbacks, and beauty.  You won’t regret going there, and I liked it so much, I need at least one more long trip there next year before I continue down the bucket list and visit other areas of this fine country.

Thanks for reading all the way through this.  Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions, and I’ll help my fellow riders anyway that I can.  Enjoy your weekend…we will…going for a whole day ride tomorrow with the wife…