Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fixing old Georgia and disasters

The unfortunate thing about having a vintage bike is not being able to ride when it needs repairs. At least it's simpler than a car, making it easier to fix.

Though the battery charged properly when Georgia was in the shop to get inspected, about a month later, the battery started dying. Turns out, the rectifier's connections were corroded, and the wire leading to the relay and battery had broken off completely.

The last time the battery died a couple weeks ago, I parked close to my workshop where Jason and I keep a trickle charger. That was when Georgia was knocked over by an SUV. The front left blinker casing got a small puncture, which I decided to just fill with some translucent epoxy rather than order an unbroken one.

I had bought a new rectifier from Radio Shack to replace the corroded one, but in order to disconnect the old one, I had to remove the gas tank to reach the connector. (I didn't want to buy another connector, so I used the original wires with the connector attached and cut off the old rectifier.)

After spilling some gasoline and storing the rest in a jug, I removed the gas lines from the petcock. But in the process, one of the brass nipples came off! Ugh. So, we ordered a replacement petcock. (I spilled gasoline when removing the gasoline tube that wraps around the bike frame connecting the right side of the tank to the left. That was a sight.)

When the tank was off, I saw that the underside of the tank was rusted. I decided to take off the rust and prime it since it was going to take a few days for the petcock to arrive.

After soldering the wires that were cut from the old rectifier to the new rectifier, I connected the rectifier and rearranged the wires so they would hide underneath the tank. I didn't put the tank back on right away but decided to paint its underside so that it would be less likely to collect dirt than primer alone.

In Brooklyn, like everywhere else in New York City, there are parking signs that tell you when you aren't allowed to park. Georgia was in a spot where there was no parking on Fridays. So when Friday came, I had to move her to another location where parking was legal for that day. Since she was out of commission I had to push her. I went to the nearest spot.

The next day Georgia had to be moved again. I had to work late, so Jason went to move her for me. But when he took her cover off, he found that the front brake lever was busted. Someone hit Georgia! (Someone was nice enough to stand her up.) When I went to survey the damage, I saw on the pavement that Georgia was not only knocked over, she was also dragged about a foot, scraping up her side, breaking the lever off completely, and scuffing the front tire. I think livid is the best descriptor of how I felt. I was glad, though, that the gas tank was not on the bike or it would have been dented and its gasoline spilled. The dragging also put several holes in the cover.

So, now I had to wait for a brake lever to arrive. Had she been a newer bike, I could have gone to the local motorcycle shop and picked up parts. But since Georgia is vintage, parts are not always easy to get.

Two weeks after removing the gas tank, I finally got to put Georgia back together again.

Not so fast!

With the newly painted tank in hand, I went to the bike. But when I removed the cover, I discovered that she was hit yet again. This time the rear right blinker was completely crushed. It was irreparable, so we got online once again and ordered parts.

At least we could get her running again, so we thought. I put the tank on, replaced the gasoline hoses, attached the "new" petcock and the new brake lever and poured in some gasoline. But then the petcock started spilling out gasoline at the switch. Ack! I had already brought my tools back inside, so I had to run to get them to remove the hoses from the carburetors to direct the gasoline into the jug. When I took the petcock apart, I saw that the spring was in the wrong way.

When she was finally back together again, except for the blinker covers which were just ordered, we gave her a start. But she wouldn't ignite. In addition, the clutch was not disengaging all the way.

Poor Georgia must have had a really hard fall. Whoever hit the bike must have backed into it at speed. I wonder if the car was damaged at all.

The clutch not working properly and the engine not starting has to be because of that hit that dragged the bike on the pavement. My guess for it not starting is a problem with ignition. The impact probably broke one or both of the spark plugs. We put the battery back on the trickle charger to make sure there was enough juice, but haven't had the chance to check the spark plugs yet.

I can't wait to ride again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Never park behind an SUV (or a truck)

Jason told me never to park behind an SUV. But I forgot.
Georgia fell
I suck.

It was so quick. After going into the spot, I even moved the bike farther away from the SUV. I also looked in front of the car. There was a lot of space there. I should have parked there. Instead I parked on the other side, because it was in front of my friend's garage, and I thought it would be safe there. I went into the deli across the street, ordered a sandwich, and when I came out, Georgia was on her side.

Eyewitnesses said the person came to his vehicle from the front, never seeing the bike on the other side. In spite of all the space in front of it, the SUV backed up, right into Georgia. A neighbor ran to the driver banging on his window, but I think that scared the guy and he drove off, probably never realizing what happened.

I looked at it as an opportunity to see if I could pick her back up again. I tried the way most people would probably try to lift a bike. Then a guy came over who said he used to have a CB350 and he helped me put Georgia back up.

Thank God there was very little damage. The front left blinker had a small chunk broken out. The exhaust was bent up slightly, but it had been missing a bolt at the top of the frame, so it can be bent back down.

Later, Jason showed me how to lift a motorcycle:

How to lift a motorcycle image
Legs, especially for women, have some of the largest muscles in the body. We probably all know from experience to never lift with the back. Instead, use the leg muscles, as if doing squats. Put your back against the bike and you will avoid using it. That will give your legs room to bend. (Like my art? Illustrator rocks.)

I learned my lesson. *sigh*

Monday, October 26, 2009

Slow riding

I practiced slow riding for a while before getting on the busy NYC streets. The reason is, the better you are at riding slow, the more control you have over your bike. This is basically what I did and a suggestion on how to practice riding slow...

First, your bike must have a wet clutch. You will want to be in the friction zone while practicing slow. (That's the zone where you can "ride the clutch," which you can't do in a car. Oil makes the clutch "wet" and makes it possible to keep gears moving while the entire bike goes slow, like less than 10 mph.)

On a paved, flat surface, work on starting slow in the friction zone, hand always on the clutch, and get to about 5-8mph. Then come to a complete stop before putting your feet down. Practice stopping completely before putting a foot down. The more comfortable you are with this, the easier it will be to make slow turns.

Once you feel comfortable with having your feet off the ground as long as humanly possible, go back in motion and practice making U-turns by counterbalancing. Start with a road width of about 20-25 feet. At a steady, slow pace, look at the spot where you want to end your turn, turn your wheel, keeping in motion. Avoid using the brakes, pressing the clutch halfway, engaging the gears carefully. Move your shoulders in the opposite direction of your turn to counterbalance. The slower the turn, the more counterbalance you will need. If you have to, put weight on your foot pegs and move your entire torso opposite the turn.

If you feel you are going too fast, squeeze in the clutch to slow down. Try not to use your front brakes. You may use your rear brake to help keep a steady pace if your clutch is sensitive.

As you get better at making the U-turn (turning left and right), decrease the radius of your turn.

Hint: as long as your bike is in motion at slow speeds, you can counterbalance it. You should only need to put your foot down at complete rest.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

People behind the Art of Rebellion show

There's nothing like the camaraderie of a community. A lot of people from the biker community and enthusiasts attended the Harley-Davidson art show. The common thread, two-wheeled motorized vehicles.

I had the opportunity to meet many of the artists who were part of the Art of Rebellion show. Each person's work inspiring or inspired by biker culture in his or her own way. Here are some photos of artists and their works:
Dirty Donny Dirty Donny

Frank Kozik Frank Kozik

Frank Kozik tank and fender Frank Kozik's tank and fender

Tara McPhersonTara McPherson

Harpoon Harpoon

The Pizz and Harpoon The Pizz and Harpoon with Harpoon's art

Art by The Pizz Art by The Pizz

Lindsey Kuhn's work Art by Lindsey Kuhn

John Van Hamersveld's work Art by John Van Hamersveld

Brian Ewing's work Art by Brian Ewing

Choppered 883 A choppered-out 883 with a tank by Jaymes at Blue Moon Kustoms

It was fun seeing my old friend Poull, who promoted the party...
Poull Brien Promoter Poull Brien

...and making new friends
Angela Angela Maria Nardolillo, bike enthusiast and video game designer

Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet all the artists or any of the photographers. Check out the Art of Rebellion website for the tour and more photos. Cool stuff.

Thanks to Pabst Blue Ribbon for the beer, Poland Spring for the water, all the artists and photographers for the beautiful art, and Harley Davidson for the rockin exhibit.
Tank by The Pizz Tank by The Pizz

The Art of Rebellion Harley-Davidson show

Harley-Davidson is sponsoring a traveling art show that benefits the CUE Art Foundation. Last night the event was open to the public in New York City.

Harley showcased their new 883 Sportster, which happened to fit me very well :) Hmm, maybe this will be my next bike.

More on the art to come...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Organ Donor"

Motorcyclists are sometimes referred to as "organ donors" for an obvious reason. There's most likely nothing more dangerous on the roads and streets than riding motorcycles.

The reality is, few people with driver's licenses sign up to be organ donors, yet there is a waiting list of people waiting for organ donations. Regardless of the type of vehicle we operate, if we have a driver's license, we should all consider signing up to be an organ donor should we be involved in a fatal accident. Each of us can still save or better another person's life post-mortem.

When I went to the DMV to turn in my sold car's plate, there were no reminders for drivers to sign up. Thing is, after we die, unless we prepare beforehand by giving legal consent to organ banks to take much-needed live tissue when we pass, our next of kin can prevent it from happening. It's sad to think that another person could lose a chance to receive a kidney, bone, liver, or something else we're not going to need anymore.

I don't mean to be morbid. Just realistic. I know I'm going to die someday. I might as well be able to offer something to someone at that time.

Prepare to give. Be an organ donor.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I sold my car today. It's sad. My car took me across the country and back. Lots of great memories. But now that I'm riding a motorcycle, the car isn't needed anymore. I don't have to take the subway for $2.25. And if I need an automobile, I can rent one through Zipcar.

Thanks for the rides, Spunky! I'll miss you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First highway trip

For this past weekend, we had planned for me to take my first highway ride out to Pennsylvania to visit Jason's family. All week, I went back and forth between riding Georgia and riding bitch with Jason. I hadn't yet ridden on a bike more than a couple miles at a time at high speed. So, I thought about the 70-mile trek on Route 78, a six-lane highway, to a little hamlet on the Delaware River called Riegelsville. We talked about making pit stops on the way to take rests, since riding on a light dual-sport bike with semis can be taxing on a rider's body. The wind pattern caused by the shape of trucks can push a bike out or in across a lane depending on where the bike is positioned near a truck. A rider would have to maintain speed while keeping the bike straight, using arms, shoulders, and body leaning against wind thrusts. In the MSF course, the instructor said, "Stay away from trucks." Unfortunately, that's virtually impossible on a highway like Route 78.

I'd only been to Jason's family's place once, and certainly didn't know the roads out there. While I looked forward to the highway experience, I finally decided not to ride Georgia. So I told Jason that I thought it would be more fun to ride with him on his bike instead of have to constantly check for directions-- less fun. All in all, I'm still an inexperienced rider. It's better for me to ride my first highway on a more familiar route to a more familiar destination.

In addition, on Friday, about to make a turn onto my street where we live, poor Georgia died because of her under-sized battery. This added to my discomfort about riding long distance. We had changed the oil and bought a new and properly-sized battery, which was fully charged in time for the trip. However, it's difficult to tell what else might cause problems with a bike that's 34 years old, especially when taking a long distance ride.

It was a good thing I rode with Jason. We left at 1pm on Saturday, when traffic is lighter than on a Friday. (Columbus Day weekend.) In spite of the lighter traffic, the wind was blowing at 30mph with gusts coming from all different directions. I could feel the wind pushing us, and I watched Jason's arms as he pressed to keep straight. His bike is also a dual-sport, but it's at least a hundred pounds heavier than Georgia. It was a head wind. So, riding at 70mph, the wind felt like 100mph. Since I could see Jason working hard, I stayed still the entire ride, keeping legs and arms as close to the bike and to Jason as possible.

We took a break about 45 miles into the trip. Jason's arms needed the rest, and I needed to stretch. The wind was so brutal, there was no way I would have been able to ride Georgia without getting blown across a lane. She's too light and I'm too light.

I'm really glad I got my new helmet in time for the trip. Had I worn the old one that feels like it might lift off, I would not have enjoyed riding the highway at all. But the new Shoei helmet stayed put. I could feel the gusts coming at different angles, but the helmet is aerodynamic enough that it's easy to resist the wind. I felt much more comfortable riding at high speed than with the old helmet. Now I'm really looking forward to riding the highways.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Shoei RF-1000

I spent the last 2 and a half months looking for the right helmet for me. When I first started shopping, I had no idea what to look for and didn't know how a helmet should fit. I also had no idea about different brands: Arai, Bieffe, Shoei, Bell, HJC, etc. I kept hearing about different brands from different people, but the one brand that seemed to get the most discussion was Shoei ("show-ee"). Turns out that was the brand that fit me best when trying them on at a store.

A few weeks of research on the Internet reading descriptions and comparing prices, I decided I would stick with Shoei, since I know what size I wear in that brand. Also, reviews talk about how the Shoei helmet stays put while riding. The helmet I had been wearing felt like it lifted up when riding at higher speeds. I finally settled on the RF-1000 and ordered it in light silver. This helmet also has vents located in places that allow air to flow, minimizing sweat.

The helmet came yesterday, just hours before a 70 mile highway trip to Pennsylvania. It was supposed to be my first highway ride on a motorcycle. Jason and I were planning to leave yesterday, but because of the chance of showers, we decided to leave the next day. I'm glad we waited, or else I'd be riding with an old helmet-- the one that feels like it comes off in high speeds.

I put the helmet on and read the guide. It says it should fit snugly around my whole head and i should be able to feel the cushion against the top of my head. I do. With the helmet on, while moving the helmet around left and right and up and down, my skin should move with the helmet. It does. With the chin pads in, the pads should be pressing in on my cheeks. They do. They press in so much that I practically bite the inside of my mouth, and I can barely speak. Supposedly, over time, the helmet will take the shape of my head and will feel less like making funny faces. Basically, this helmet fits snugly enough that if I fall at a high speed, it won't come off until I take it off.

I had only ridden on a motorcycle once at a speed of 70mph, and it was scary with a helmet that didn't fit me well. But today, while riding on the highway, the helmet was secure. It didn't feel like it was trying to come off my head in high speed. It was comfortable and comforting. Didn't even seem like we were going 70.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oil change on a CL360

My bike is from 1975. It sat around for years, then the last owner never rode her. So, needless to say, Georgia needed some work. To pass inspection, the tires and fork seals were replaced, carburetors and fuel lines cleaned, and she got a new horn. What didn't happen at the shop was an oil change.

For some bikes, changing the oil properly is time intensive. Georgia is a CL360 with a 4 stroke engine, 2 cylinders, 2 carburetors, and 6 gears. It's hard to tell from a dipstick how dirty oil is, and since we know the bike sat around for years, I decided to give her a proper oil change. Jason and I downloaded the manual and got to work.

What we didn't know before we started was what exactly was involved in properly maintaining the engine oil. On cars and newer bikes, changing the oil is pretty simple: drain the oil, change the filter, fill the oil pan with fresh oil. Not so with this and similar old bikes.

It's very easy to overburn oil and destroy the cylinders in an engine. Proper lubrication is essential for an engine's long life, fuel efficiency, and smooth running condition. A couple days ago, I thought I could smell burning oil from Georgia's engine. Plus, she seemed to be running a bit rough. Hence, the urgent decision to change the oil.

I looked all over the internet to make sure we did it correctly but couldn't find anything aside from the manual, which doesn't give too many images to help. So, I decided to write it down here, and add some pictures.

The crankcase
On a Honda CL360 (and CB360), the oil is contained within the crankcase, which is where all the gears are. To filter the oil, it runs through a centrifugal oil filter, which spins forcing sediment to stick to the sides of a rotor assembly. The filtered oil then spits out of the rotor to recirculate into the engine. Larger particles sink to the bottom of the crankcase and are filtered by a metal screen. When the oil is changed on this kind of bike, both the rotary filter (centrifugal filter) and the metal screen should be clean. Otherwise, dirt in the crankcase will be recirculated and will bog down the engine.

First, you should warm up the engine to warm the oil to loosen it so it drains easier, but not too hot that parts cannot be handled. Then remove the oil drain plug with a 17mm socket wrench with a pan underneath to catch the old oil. Make sure you have the metal gasket (looks like a washer) with the plug. If the drain plug is too tight, try putting an iron pipe around the socket wrench handle for more leverage.

Drain the oil.
While the oil is draining, you can remove the parts that need to come off in order to get to the oil filter and screen. Since these parts are inside the crankcase, the crankcase cover must come off. To get the cover off, the rear brake lever, foot peg, and kick start lever must also be removed. (On a CB360, the exhaust pipe must be removed. Now are you starting to understand why motorcycle oil changes can get expensive at a shop?)

While removing these parts, it can help to take pictures of what you are removing to make sure you replace all the parts properly. Particularly, remember how the brake pedal is angled, since it can go on at a number of different angles. Also be careful that the brake light spring is not overstretched when you disconnect it.

Remove the rear brake lever, foot peg, and kick start lever.


After the oil is drained, the crankcase cover can come off. Make sure your oil pan is underneath it as you remove the cover as leftover oil will spill out.

Remove the crankcase cover.

Remove the crankcase cover.
When you remove the cover, you might have to loosen it by carefully striking the cover with a mallet. (We used a hammer and bunch of newspaper folded up to keep the case from getting scratched or dented.) Also make sure that you take the cover off at an angle, starting at the left edge. The gasket, which might be stuck to the cover can pull off the gear below the centrifugal filter. If the gear becomes loose, make sure when you put the cover back on to realign it with the filter gear. Also, make sure the gasket is in good shape. If it's torn or shredded, replace it.

The crankcase gasket
Here's the inside of the crankcase and the location of the filter and screen:
Inside the crankcase.

The screen filter at the bottom is held by a metal assembly with 3 bolts. To clean the screen, the entire assembly must be removed. Then the rubber housing framing the screen can be removed.

The screen assembly
This is what the filter screen looked like:
A dirty screen
Since there was sludge and metal shards from the engine in the screen, it needed to be cleaned off. We used turpentine to loosen the sludge, then rinsed it with water and let it dry. (Remove the screen from the metal assembly before using solvents to clean the screen. When replacing the screen, make sure that the rubber housing wraps around the metal frame all the way. I used a flathead screwdriver to ease the edges around the frame.)

A clean screen
That was the easy part of cleaning the filters. Next, the centrifugal assembly...

The centrifugal oil filter
Cleaning the oil filter requires dealing with several parts: the rotor cylinder, the rotor cap, a rubber gasket, and a metal clip holding in the cover. First, the metal cover clip must be removed by pinching together the two ends with needlenose pliers and pulling it out.

The cover clip
Then, the cap must come off. Some say to use pliers to remove the cap, but this did not work for us. Instead, we got it off by inserting a flathead screwdriver into the holes in the center of the cap, gently leveraging it off by rocking the screwdriver little by little around the circumference. Be careful not to shred the gasket, which is just behind the cap.

Inside the centrifugal filter.
This is where the oil change can get time consuming...

Sediment from used oil collects onto the inside surface of the rotor, which should still be attached to the bike. This must be cleaned out, or else the sediment can continue to build up and cause the rotor to stick. I used a thin flathead screwdriver to scrape out the sludge, then used a rag with some oil on it to wipe it clean. (Don't use WD40 inside the crankcase. Use clean motor oil.)

Sludge on the screwdriver
After the sludge is removed from the rotor, put some clean oil in it so that when the engine is started, it will lubricate immediately. Also, wipe down the rest of the crankcase, removing any sludge. Replace the rotor cap with a good gasket pushing it in until you can see the ridge where the metal clip goes. Make sure the tab on the cap lines up with the line on the outside edge of the rotor. Then pinch the metal clip ends together to fit it against the cap to hold the cap in place.

Line it up
Once the sludge is wiped off and the filter and screen are replaced, the crankcase is ready for fresh oil. Carefully attach the crankcase cover. Be careful not to dislocate that gear beneath the rotor assembly, as mentioned above. If the cover doesn't seem to go back on, that gear might be out of place.

Once all the screws are back in the crankcase, the oil drain plug is replaced with its metal gasket, and the kickstart lever, foot peg, and brake lever are replaced, fill her up! We used 2 quarts of oil for "older engines." The manual says to use an oil with detergent, and another vintage Honda owner recommended synthetic oil. I use synthetic oil in my CRX, so it makes sense to use it in these old classic bikes.

Oh, yeah. Be environmentally kind and put the old oil in the empty oil containers and take them to a service station where it can be safely disposed or recycled (we hope).

After the oil change, Georgia seems to run smoother. No more burning oil smell. Yay.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lane splitting

Lane splitting is not legal in New York State, but I think it should be, especially because air-cooled engines need to be in motion to prevent from overheating. Did that once before. Riders split lanes anyway, passing slow or stopped traffic to get ahead. I haven't ridden between lanes yet, but today I passed traffic on the right-hand side, as if making a right turn (which I made).

On the Manhattan Bridge, traffic traveled at 5-10 miles per hour. I watched 2 other bikes go by splitting lanes, and thought about following, but I didn't feel confident enough. Geez, I've only been riding less than 2 months. But when getting off the bridge, traffic was backed up 2 blocks. So, I passed traffic as if about to make a right turn.

Passing traffic on the right is not safe, because in the right lane, drivers are not looking to their right, and because people in parked cars could open their doors unexpectedly. So, I rode slowly in the friction zone in first gear watching to make sure nobody opened their doors or tried to pull over to the right.

(The friction zone is when the bike is in gear and the wet clutch is ridden. So, the clutch is pressed halfway allowing for engine control, particularly when riding slow.)

I'm sure one day I'll be confident enough to split lanes. Who wants to sit in slow traffic?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Parking safety

Living in a town or city without a garage has an obvious danger for classic bikes on the streets: public exposure.

I parked my bike at the end of my street a couple days ago, close to where my car was parked, because I had an appointment to show my car to a prospective buyer. The next day, I went to the bike to ride, and someone had messed with her. The handle bar bag was moved, the kill switch on, the lights turned off, and the kick start lever pulled out. When I started the bike, the turn signals didn't work properly and the headlight would not turn on. I didn't have time to check the lamp to make sure it was connected, or check the battery, so I left Georgia for the day and went to my appointment by subway. It was depressing.

That night, I went back to the bike. Someone had messed with her again! Once again, the kill switch was on, and this time the seat had been bent back. This loser probably tried to remove my helmet from the helmet hook under the seat to get it kick started. Fortunately, this time the high beam on the headlamp worked (wires were loose), so I rode Georgia to a regular spot in front of our local watering hole and parked her there.

While I was out, I stopped at the Vespa store on Crosby Street in Manhattan and bought a 3.5 foot (110cm) OnGuard chain (the Mastiff 5019) to keep people from taking the bike. This length just fits around the front wheel and frame of my CL360.

After parking, I removed the headlamp from the fixture to check the wires and pushed tight any that were loose. The lamp itself was loose. Since I didn't have the proper hardware to fix it right, I used what I could find to at least keep the lamp from moving within its fixture. I got the low beam to work as well, then straightened the seat.

Whoever messes with someone else's bike simply is not cool. Respect, people.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting comfortable

I had my first solo ride to Queens today to see my brother on his birthday. I avoided Queens Boulevard as much as possible, taking Greenpoint Avenue all the way from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to 48th Avenue in Queens. On the way, it rained a bit, but just spit. The pavement stayed relatively dry.

I wore my brand new white leather motorcycle jacket, bought on

The leather is nice and thick. It has back protection made with dual density foam, elbow and forearm pads, and shoulder guards with foam and PVC armor. It also has vents on the front and back that can be unzipped.

The best thing about this jacket is that drivers see me. It was a marked improvement between what I wore before and this white jacket. Before, wearing an earthy orange leather jacket, I had to constantly watch how cars crawled at an intersection, then slow down to make sure they didn't just pull out. With the white jacket on, drivers saw me right away and stopped-- no crawling.

People on the side of the streets see me too. Two guys today in different locations said something to the effect of, "Wow, you look hot on that bike." Never happened before, except from my boyfriend. I guess they could tell I was a girl, cause I wore a pink hoodie.

I was excited and nervous before getting on the bike today. But after riding for several miles and seeing how much better traffic responds to the white jacket, I feel much more comfortable. One guy, though, still didn't stop, however. And that was one block from home. The guy pulled out, didn't stop at the stop sign, didn't see me, even with the jacket on. I might have been camouflaged against a white van or truck. I gunned the throttle and escaped the possible accident.

Unfortunately, there's no nighttime reflective material on the jacket. So, I ordered some glass reflective beads, used on traffic signs and streets. I'll glue them on the jacket, on the stripes on the sleeves and make a star emblem on my back. Then, I'll feel a bit safer riding at night.

Be thoughtful about what you wear on your motorcycle!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Parked it and left it

Two whole days and nights went by of not riding. For me, that sucks. Problem is that I got a freelance job with an ad agency and the hours have been grueling. I get home when it's dark, and Jason doesn't want me riding at night by myself until I have more experience. So, I've been riding the subway to work. Tonight, I had to move the bike because of alternate side parking rules. (The streets get cleaned in the morning, so the bike has to be moved to the other side.) I decided to ride down to Superfine, one of my favorite restaurants, and get some dinner.

When I sat down for dinner, I realized how tired I was. And I rode there tired. Dinner was amazing-- steak au poivre medium rare. But I decided to leave the bike there across the street from the restaurant and walk home.

Safety measures. Take them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The first time I put on a full-face motorcycle helmet some months ago, I could barely get it on my head. I thought it was too tight, because it squished my cheeks in, and I could barely speak clearly. Thinking back, barely able to speak clearly was a sign that the helmet was in fact not too small at all. (Not being able to speak clearly is a good indication that the pads of the helmet fit snugly enough around one's face to keep the jaw from caving in in the possible event of crashing face down.) Now when I put the helmet on, I can feel the helmet move as I shake my head. Not good at all.

I went to the Ducati-Triumph dealer on Sixth Avenue (Ave. of the Americas) off Spring Street to try on a new helmet. The extra helmets Jason has are all second hand, which means someone else's head shaped the inside cushions. Quite possibly, the foam might have disintegrated over time, or a helmet might have been dropped, destroying the integrity of its protective abilities. Basically, if I have an accident wearing one of these used helmets, particularly while traveling at a high speed, there's a chance I could suffer brain trauma, or some other head injury.

In 80% of motorcycle fatalities, helmets were an issue. Most head injuries happen on the face. 19% of head injuries happen on one side of the jaw. So, even though open face helmets look cool and allow the wnd to blow against your face, a full face helmet will protect your jaw.

Though helmet discussions are one of the most debated issues among the motorcyle community, I think I'll choose safety over the wind. Besides, if you're caught in the rain with an open face helmet at highway speed, it's like getting shot in the face by a dozen BB guns.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Georgia, my orange 1975 Honda CL360 scrambler

Ain't she a beaut?

More practice, a braking mistake, and others

I ride with Jason as much as possible. This past weekend we took 2 trips to Queens, most dangerous borough to drive in in New York City. I highly recommend that inexperienced riders avoid Queens at all costs-- except for Review Avenue, which runs alongside Newton Creek, a body of water between Brooklyn and Queens.

On Review Avenue, we got up to about 45mph. There are a few recesses and bumps in the road to avoid, but overall, a smooth ride. The street is lined with industrial lots, which on a Saturday are pretty quiet. Then to cross back over to Brooklyn, we took a bridge that connected Grand Street, Queens, and Grand Street, Brooklyn. At the bridge, we stopped behind a truck. I thought the truck was waiting for another car to cross the bridge from the other side. I didn't get a chance to really see if that was the case, because just as I peeked around the truck to see what was ahead, a woman in a mini-van cut me off.

People in cars are out to kill motorcyclists. Beware!

On Sunday, we went to Queens again. On the way, I made a braking mistake. There's a nice long stretch of newly paved road in Brooklyn called Flushing Avenue, connecting the Vinegar Hill neighborhood with Williamsburg. On this stretch, I like to take advantage of the fact that there are only cross streets on one side, making that part of Flushing Avenue a relatively safe ride. But this day, I took too much of a risk.

I forgot that I wasn't driving a car. And when we approached a changing traffic light at 50mph, I decided to stop-- except there wasn't enough room. Though I was careful not to squeeze the brake too fast, I did squeeze all the way. The bike didn't have enough room. I skidded, leaving about ten feet of rubber on the pavement, crossed the intersection, and stopped on the other side. Thank God there were no cars driving into the intersection from the cross street.

Amazingly, I wasn't afraid. I just thanked God and went on.

This day, to cross into Queens, we took McGuinness Boulevard to Long Island City, the nice part of Queens (in the eyes of a Brooklynite). On the bridge, I sped up to 50mph. We were in the left lane, since there were cars to our right. But there was a concrete median, which made it more scary to ride there. On an uphill curve, I tried to maintain my speed, remembering to look toward the spot I want to go to complete the curve and lean. To me, this was a perfect opportunity to practice taking fast curves. But when I looked ahead, there in the distance was something going much slower than me. I had to slow down. Since I was on a curve, the bike was unstable. Jason saw that the bike wobbled as I slowed on the curve, and I tried to keep the speed up as much as possible. I should have used my rear brake on the curve, but I was too shocked to see something ahead that I could potentially crash into to remember to use the rear brake.

Unfortunately, I couldn't tell what was ahead of me. It looked like a bicycle! In the passing lane! So, I had to slow down. When I reached the slow vehicle and looked, it was a Chinese guy on a scooter, riding at about 20mph.

Now, I have to mention that the guy is Chinese, because there is a huge problem in New York City with immigrants who arrive uneducated about how things work in the United States. Guys on vehicles is one group of people that needs education. I don't care at this point if they're legal or illegal. In fact, I'm happy that someone is there to deliver my dinner if I'm too busy to go to the store myself. Fact is, uneducated bicycle and scooter riders on the street is a true danger. Several months ago, a Chinese delivery man was killed on the street while riding a bicycle. As a community, I think that each ethnic group must collaborate to teach immigrants about safety on the streets in a language they will understand. They must learn safe practices, such as riding a scooter on the far right of the street, and learn how to obey traffic rules.

It made me teeming mad that this uneducated scooter rider was in my path on a fast, curving street-- a bridge! (I didn't feel mad until we had parked and sat down for lunch.) In addition, when we got to Queens, a part of the street we rode on was unmarked, and for almost 2 blocks, I rode on the wrong side of the street! Fortunately, because I practice SEE (Search Examine Execute) I saw far enough ahead that a car was driving towards me, and I managed to get back on the right side of the street.

The rest of the day I thought about the three mistakes in my head: Braking with not enough room; not gently using the rear brake to slow down on a curve; not seeing for 2 blocks that the street I was on was two-way. (There were cars facing the other direction on those 2 blocks.) All three were potentially fatal mistakes. Again, I thank God that there were no other obstacles present that could have made them fatal.

After lunch, we went to Roosevelt Island, a strange community reminiscent of Northern European high-rise communities, with its own school and one supermarket. Then we headed to my brother's place in Sunnyside. To get there we took one of those dangerous streets, Queens Boulevard. A minivan driver was nice enough to let us get in front of him, but then he went towards another direction.

Queens Boulevard was probably the scariest street I've ridden on so far. The pavement was uneven. Cars switched lanes without signaling and fast. Jason almost got clipped by a passing vehicle. And a bicyclist, ignoring or not seeing my right turn signal on as a red light turned green, nearly rode straight into my side. I yelled at him. We avoided that street after stopping at a market to pick up food for my brother. I had an opportunity to practice riding with some weight on my back, carrying the food from the market. (Jason offered to put the groceries on his rack, but I wanted the practice.)

This weekend was definitely good practice for me. Dangerous, but good. So, today, I took my lessons with me and rode solo into Manhattan to go to a job. Remembering it all, I had a safer ride. Yelled at a guy who made me go into another lane, but was safer. (Oh yeah, I was yelling, cause my horn stopped working a couple weeks ago.)

Motorcycle riding is never safe. It can be safer, but never safe.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fixing the bike

After Jason tested Georgia and agreed she had a problem, he went online and figured out that the screen in the petcock had buildup. So, I grabbed a bucket and some tools, disconnected the fuel lines from the carburetors, drained the gas tank and removed the petcock. Sure enough, there were rust flakes from inside the gas tank on the screen.

Unfortunately, we also discovered that the reserve fuel feed that went into the petcock was broken off. So whatever had collected at the very bottom of the tank went into the petcock. The first time Jason had brought Georgia back from the shop after her carbs were cleaned, he was running out of fuel and switched to reserve. That was weeks ago. So for the past few weeks, I'd been riding with a flake of rusted metal hanging on in the petcock. It made it to the screen while speeding to 55 MPH on the bridge home. No amount of flooding the fuel lines allowed the gasoline to flow cleanly.

The part that really sucks is that we just had the carburetors cleaned. Then after one day of riding on reserve, the fuel lines were once again clogged. Rather than replace the entire petcock, we decide to go the less expensive route and get inline fuel filters to keep more rust flakes from getting into the carbs.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First solo ride into the city

I reached a hallmark in my motorcycle riding experience: I rode solo into Manhattan, aka "The City."

I took the Brooklyn Bridge this time, since it's easier to get to the west side from there than the Manhattan Bridge. I decided to take the west side streets, because I'm more familiar with them than the east side. I had to get to 37th Street for an audition. The audition was for a promotion of a game show TV network. Of course, I hope to get the job, especially because I hadn't worked much for months and badly needed the income.

Unfortunately, I hadn't listened to the radio before leaving to find out what traffic would be like. Also, I forgot that the route I took had no access to Hudson Street on which I planned to ride uptown and park. So, first, I had to turn around and back track in order to get to Hudson Street. Then when I finally get there, I only get to ride a few blocks, because the street was barricaded. Something was going on. Back track again, and then take Sixth Avenue instead only to find that it's also barricaded.

Obama is in town.

At this point, traffic looks like a parking lot. Lane splitting is not legal in New York State. It should be, especially for air-cooled engines like mine. Somehow I inch my way to the front of traffic, ready to strike across Houston Street into a side road where I could park and grab a subway. But...

Georgia stalls. And she doesn't start. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, when I left, I had to kick start the engine. That was my first kick start. The poor bike overheated in all the standing traffic. And it was 80 degrees outside. I walked the bike across the street when the light turned green. Then I pushed it to a legal parking spot. At this point, I was running late for my audition.

I didn't bother locking my helmet to the bike. I just grabbed it and ran to the subway. I was late to the audition, and I bombed it. Nice.

When I got back to the bike, Georgia had cooled down. I had to kick start her again, but she started. I met up with Jason where he parked his bike and we rode home together. We took the Manhattan Bridge home, but while on the bridge, Georgia started losing power in fifth gear. She lurched and I downshifted to maintain speed. But I lost speed from 50 to 45 to 40. Fortunately, when we hit 40, we were on a downward hill. So, I kept the gears at 3rd gear until we got to our street.

Poor Georgia. She's sick.

I made a pretty bad riding error today. I saw a van pulling into my lane. Instead of settling back and letting the guy take the lane, I claimed my space and sped ahead of him, seeing at the very last second that there was a red light just a few dozen feet ahead. I squeezed the brakes hard and felt the rear tire come out of line. I let go of the brakes slightly, realigned and slowed to a stop, just 3 feet from the car ahead of me. Phew! That was close.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wet ride

This weekend, I had my first ride on wet pavement. I took it slow and carefully. I don't think I'd enjoy riding in the rain. At the same time, I've got the bug. I'm sure once I feel I have enough experience, I'll ride in the rain anyway.

I still have a healthy fear of riding. And rightly so. That's why motorcyclists are called "organ donors."

Monday, September 7, 2009

First ride into the city

New York City is a scary place to ride a motorcycle. The notorious cab drivers, Chinese delivery guys riding the wrong way on bicycles, mini-vans full of religious people, people on their cell phones who should get their licenses revoked, drivers from New Jersey (haha), etc.

We rode across the Manhattan Bridge from our little neighborhood in Brooklyn to the East Village in Manhattan. There was a bit of wind as we crossed the bridge. Jason, the great coach he is, tells me not to be afraid, but just hold the handlebars steady and straight. We get up to 45 MPH on the bridge. It wasn't too scary.

Sundays are a good day to practice riding, or driving, in the city. There's less traffic, and more room to see ahead and watch out for potholes.

We parked our bikes on Avenue A and 6th Street, since we planned to watch a girl we met the night before perform music at the Sidewalk Cafe at the same corner. We went to a divey bar, played pool, went to another place, played Buck Hunter (beat Jason again), drank terrible Margaritas, went to the Sidewalk Cafe to see Meg Cavanaugh sing and play guitar, then went to Karaoke across the street and down a block. Needless to say, we were too drunk by the end of the night to ride home. So, we got in a cab.

The next day was Labor Day, so we didn't have to worry about parking regulations. It's like having another Sunday. In the afternoon, after recovering from a bad margarita headache, we took the subway back into the city to get the bikes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Practice practice practice

Jason has been reminding me every day to practice riding. Work has been slow, so I've had plenty of time during daylight hours to get on the bike and ride. I've been staying in the neighborhood, though, practicing slow turns, counterbalancing, and gunning it to third gear. I only missed one day this week since getting Georgia back from the shop.

We took a ride out to Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, a few miles from home. There's one street where there are no traffic lights for about a 3/4-mile. I took advantage of this and accelerated as much as comfortable. Got up to 45 MPH in fifth gear.

We stopped at a bar called Bait and Tackle on Van Brunt Street and played Buck Hunter. I won.

Jason tells me that I lug the engine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My first 3-mile ride

Since Jason went straight to the shop to get Georgia, I went to meet him and ride home with him. But the shop's location is on a busy street, and I wasn't ready to ride a four-lane street. So, Jason took Georgia to Williamsburg, a familiar neighborhood about 3 miles from home. Then he took a car service to the shop to get his bike.

We met up just before the sun went down. I wore a 3/4 helmet with sunglasses. According to Jason and my MSF instructor, I'm a natural. So, he didn't worry about me wearing that helmet on these slower streets.

I made a couple mistakes in turns. One was starting into a turn, the other was taking a turn too fast and going wide. But we made it home safely. It was my first real ride. We took the most quiet streets, avoiding lane changes and rough pavement. I got up to 35 miles per hour in 4th gear.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My first weekend riding with a license

Georgia came back from the motorcycle shop, but the guy forgot to inspect it. So, Jason has to take her back on Monday.

At least I got to ride her a little bit around the neighborhood. I practiced slow turns and rode her down Belgian block streets while Jason walked nearby. (I went slow!) I took her to a quiet two-way street to practice U-turns and shifting. Then, she passed out and wouldn't start. Apparently, the battery is too small and didn't hold enough charge for me to ride in second gear.

Tonight, we're using a trickle charger on the battery so that Jason can take Georgia to the shop tomorrow.

I'm eager to ride again. In the meantime, Jason changed the seat on his bike to a single seat. No more rides on the back of his bike. :(

Monday, August 17, 2009

First weekend with a license :-/

On Thursday, I took my MSF waiver to the New York DMV and got my license. :)

I named the bike Georgia. She's a reddish orange color with black and chrome pipes. Unfortunately, on this first beautiful weekend after getting my license, Georgia was in the shop. :(

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation course

I happened to sign up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's course on the hottest day of the year. Fortunately, the instructor, Bettye Rae Lorenz, is way cool. She did her best to accommodate the class so that we wouldn't be sweating bullets in the peak sun. Yesterday was the first day.

Since my boyfriend rides, I've had the joy of riding "bitch" with him on his bike. But I had never ridden a motorcycle by myself before. At least, I can ride a bicycle and drive a standard transmission automobile.

There were six people signed up for the class. Since this class is during the week, fewer people attend. On weekends, the class size gets up to 24 people. That's nuts. Three students were already riders, two with off-road experience, one with street experience. The rest of us had none, except as a passenger.

The first couple hours of the course was in a classroom where we watched a video on motorcycle safety and read through a booklet with facts that was on the written test, which we took at the end of the hot day. (Air-conditioned classroom, thank God.)

On the course, in a parking lot of the Ulster County Community College in upstate New York, there were six bikes with 300cc engines, or less. The bike I rode was a Kawasaki Eliminator-- 250cc. In fact, we three inexperienced students, who happen to be all women, rode Kawasakis while the experienced ones, guys, rode Honda Shadows.

First day, we sat on the bikes, walked them while sitting on them, then practiced using the wet clutch before being allowed to ride in first gear from cone to cone, about 50 yards apart. At this point, one person, who didn't have experience or know how to drive a stick-shift, was counseled out of the class. So, then we were five in the class. After a break, we learned to press and lean to turn, shift to second gear, turn, shift down, stop short, and shift to third gear. At the end of the day, we took our written test, and all of us left passed. Yay.

Second day, Bettye Rae prepared us for the road test, which consisted of 4 parts: riding between lines in a curve, stopping short, two U-turns in a box the size of 7 parking spaces, and swerving to avoid an accident with a stopped vehicle or other obstacle. We also did a lot of snaking through cones, practiced lane changing, using front and rear brakes (on the test), made lots of right turns and left turns, practiced counterbalancing, and rode over a 2x4 several times. The curve and stop were both timed, and there were points against the tester for riding too slow. For the U-turns, points went against putting a foot down or crossing the boundary of the box. I lost a point taking a curve too slow, and 3 points for crossing the U-turn boundary.

In the end, the five of us that were left got our licenses. Easy, but scary, because I definitely didn't feel ready to ride by myself, even though I did really well in class and felt equipped enough to avoid other vehicles by swerving. It was too easy.

Fact is, riding a motorcycle in the same streets and roads as cars, buses, trucks, and even bicycles, has to be one of the most dangerous things a person can do. And to ride, there's nothing better for a rider than to have a healthy fear of it. So, why would i do it? Well, for one, it's easy to park in the city. Two, motorcycle riding can be more fuel efficient to commute than today's hybrid car. Three, there's nothing like riding. I think I might be getting the bug.