Tour of California, Stage 4, Merced, Ca. to Clovis, Ca.

I'm a big cycling fan! I've been cycling for years and my wife & I can both remember the day that Greg LeMond was the first American to win the Tour de France! (For instance, my wife remembers being in a cafeteria eating breakfast at the University of Oregon for a Summer Architecture Academy.) Of course we watched as Lance Armstrong won every single one of his seven Tour de France titles. So, needless to say, we were very excited when we heard that the 2009 Tour of California was going to be coming to Clovis! Right here in our own backyard (so to speak)! I signed up to be a volunteer and was assigned to be a Course Marshal. (My mom did too.) I would have loved to be on the course as motorcycle support, but you have to have done it for a while and be "invited", so maybe another time in the future.

My office is a block from where the race was taking place. I kept calling my wife periodically throughout the day with progress reports. First it was that everything was being set up all around Old Town Clovis, and then it was that there were helicopters flying overhead all over the place, then it was updates as I watched the live feed of the race on the internet. Saying I was excited was an understatement. The largest stage race in the United States was happening right outside my window!

My wife got our girls out of school early and drove into Clovis. They parked at my office and came inside just in time to see a crash on the live feed. One of the victims of the crash was Floyd Landis. He is on the Ouch Team and we thought it was ironic to see Floyd Landis walking around with road rash all over his arms and legs with the word OUCH emblazened all over his clothing!

We walked out to Clovis Avenue between Seventh and Eighth and sat on some grass. It would be another hour and a half before the cyclists would arrive in Clovis. My Mom & I checked in with the volunteer supervisor and then took our stations on opposite sides of Clovis Avenue. My wife & Kids walked around and saw the race progress on the Jumbotron and then the girls hung out on the curb. Speaking of Clovis Avenue, it was pretty cool that the City of Clovis changed the signs on Clovis Avenue to read The Tour of California.

Just before 3:30pm the traffic on Clovis Avenue thinned as they closed off the street. There were official cars, photo motorcycles, a fire truck, and lots of California Highway Patrol driving up and down the street. There were people running out into the road to write things on the ground in yellow chalk. Then we could see the helicopters. We knew that when we saw the helicopters that the riders were very close.

It was almost 4:00pm when the peloton came into view. It was an amazing sight to see all those riders, so close together and moving so fast, as they screamed down Clovis Avenue, pushing 30 miles an hour. There was no way that we could even remotely pick out any specific riders, so my wife just held down the button on the camera and took as many photos as she could! In fifteen seconds it was over, they were gone around the corner. (My boss described seeing the peloton speed by as the most exciting fifteen seconds he has ever experienced!)

I had to stay at my station on Clovis Avenue, but the spectators, including my wife & Kids, ran to the next block west where the finish line was on Pollasky Avenue. There was no way they were going to be able to see anything with all the people, so my wife threw the girls up on the wall of a nearby house so they could see over everyone's heads. My wife had the big camera and held it up to get some shots, and my oldest took photos from the wall.

When it was over, they walked back to where I was, and as it turns out, they should have stayed with me. We didn't know it, but the racers, after crossing the finish line, turned and rode through the parking lot past the spot where I was stationed and where my family had been standing to watch the race. Since my wife took both cameras, I could only take photos with my phone. As Lance Armstrong went by him, I said to my Mom, "It's Lance Armstrong!" and Lance looked over at us. (Of course, he could have just been checking both ways before he went out into the street.) Cool! Floyd Landis went by as well.

After the racers had all gone by, and I was done marshaling, we all went over to where the racers trailers were to see if we could get any photos. I talked to one of the motorcycle marshals and the girls went over to see the Jelly Belly car. We could tell where Lance Armstrong's trailer was, as there were a ton of people crowded around with their cameras up in the air. My wife was too short to get a photo of anything other than the backs of people's heads, so I took the camera to try to get some photos of Lance Armstrong. In the meantime my wife helped the girls to get up to the barricade to get an autograph from Lance. Right as they got the barricade, Lance turned and got in his car and was driven away. Bummer!

We went over to Floyd Landis' trailer, but he had already left. We asked how he was, seeing as he had crashed earlier, and they said it was really nice of us to ask and said that he was alright. We went around to the Quick Step team trailer and my oldest daughter got an autograph from Tom Boonen, a Belgian who won the World Championship title in 2005. We also got a signed poster from Tom Fowler, with the Canadian Cervelo team.

While we were in line to get that poster, we saw a commotion down at the end of the parking lot, at the drug testing trailer. I went down to see that it was Levi Leipheimer, the captain of the Astana team! He has been in the Tour de France (on Lance Armstrong's team), and he has won the Tour of California twice and he is in the lead this year as well. The girls got an autograph and then they got a photo with him! My oldest was jumping up and down with excitement to have the autographs!

Mark Cavendish of the Columbia Team won the stage by the way. Tom Boonen placed second. Levi Leipheimer is still in first place over all. Lance is in fourth. It was so cool to be there and see all these great cyclists! It was a blast and I'm looking forward to next year.

See all the Tour of California - Stage 4 pics HERE.


Fresno Motorcycle Safety Seminar

Motorcycle collisions are up nationwide and the Fresno area is no exception. The nationally recognized Fresno Police Department's Traffic Bureau will be providing free two hour lectures on proven motorcycle tactics so you can, "Arrive Alive" at your destination.

Information will be tailored specifically to enhance the unique concerns of the cruiser style rider, sport bike enthusiast and scooter transportation rider. This class will enhance motorcycle safety awareness for all levels of riders.

Dynamics of vehicle collisions will be provided by detectives from the Collisions Reconstruction Unit who investigate and reconstruct all fatal collisions and safety tactics taught to law enforcement motor officers by instructors from the Traffic Bureau's Training Unit.

Classes will be held at the Traffic Bureau's office at 1343 E. Bulldog in the "Stone Soup" Office complex starting on Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 10:00 am and will continue as often as is needed.

For additional information contact Sergeant Eric Eide at (559) 621-5052


Short Days and Hazard Lights

The days are getting shorter and I find myself riding in the dark more and more. My place of employment is about 28 miles away, if I take a direct route, and I usually try to be there between 7:00am & 7:30am. The ride takes about 40 minutes, which means I am leaving the house in the dark and get to the office around sun-up. This is a perfect part of the day to ride as I love watching the sun come up, but really, what part of the day is bad for riding?

For the most part, I like the controls on the ST, particularly those on the handlebars. After you figure out where they are, they become very intuitive. My wife's Honda Odyssey is very similar, once you figure out the multitude of buttons, (there's a lot, and they're everywhere; like flying the Space Shuttle), everything is in the right place. (I do, however, take exception to two of the 'environmental control' switches for the rear of the Odyssey. After 70,000 miles, they're still counter-intuitive to me.) Thankfully, the ST only has a few buttons and switches on the handlebars, all which are standard on every bike I've ever owned or ridden.

But... there are three non-standard buttons and a non-standard dial on the ST dashboard. Their uses are very straight forward though. The dial adjusts the headlight pitch. The headlights can be adjusted - raised or lowered - on the fly. There are eight increments on the dial that allow the rider to find that happy place. If you carry a passenger, or adjust you rear shock with too much preload, and your headlight is pointing in the trees or only shining 20 feet in front ahead, a quick turn of the knob and it's all good.

The three nearly flush-mounted buttons are placed to the right of the headlight knob, and control some of the information shown on the ST's dash board computer read-out info screen. The lower right button toggles between the two trip meters. The lower left button toggles between instantaneous fuel mileage (updated at ten second intervals), average fuel mileage, or just turns the mileage data off with one less piece of info cluttering the info screen. The top button is simply a brightness adjustment, with three increments, for the info screen. This top button I've been using a lot lately as I've been riding more in the darker hours. During the daytime, I like to set the info screen at its brightest. It's not absolutely necessary, but it helps when the sun glares on the dash. When the sun goes down, I turn the brightness on the info screen down, where its brightness about equals the backlights in the analog tachometer & speedometer.

Of those four controls, two of them, the headlight dial and the info screen brightness adjustment, are intended to make functional adjustments between daytime and night-time riding. As such, they are frequently used in low-light, to no light conditions. I think Honda could have made them a bit easier to use in these conditions if the buttons lit up, or at least had a light halo around them. As they are, they're black buttons on a black dash. At night, it's just a whole lot of black nothing. When I do want to adjust them, unless I pass under a street light at the right moment, I have to grope my way around until I find them. The knob for the headlights isn't much of a problem, but finding the right buttons with my winter gloves still involves some trial and error. I try to dim the lights only to find I'm toggling between my trip meters.

There is one other nit I can pick about button location, but I'm not sure if I can attribute the problem directly to Honda. I have a set of bar risers on the ST that lift the bars 3/4" up and 1" back. They do make the riding position much more comfortable than I believe the stock position would be, (The risers were on the ST when I got it) but they place me farther from the dash, making the buttons harder to reach. Now, I'm a tall guy - 6' tall - with a longer than most wingspan. I can reach about 6'4", but I've still got to lean pretty far forward to reach the buttons.

Now, there's another button on the ST that is standard on many newer motorcycles, particularly tourers and sport-tourers; the Hazard switch. The ST has one located on the top of the left hand control cluster. For comparison, my BMW GS has a hazard switch located on the right of the dash, opposite the switch for the heated grips. Honda put it closer to the rider, but it's still necessary to let go of the bar to activate it. The problem I'm finding with it's location, and this (minor) problem may be attributed to the bar risers, is that when I lean forward to grope in the dark to find the the headlight dial or the info screen brightness adjustment, my forearm hits the hazard switch and activates the hazard lights.

These aren't huge problems. They are relatively minor in the grand scheme on the bike. (I have lived with bigger problems on lesser bikes.) Once the switches are set in the proper positions, you forget them. During daylight hours, these problems don't exist, and using the buttons is simple and intuitive. But, their existing design and configuration seem to make more work than it should be at night. Work that I'll have to get used to as the days keep getting shorter.

At least the ST doesn't have that same upside-down 'environmental' switch as my wife's Odyssey.


Bicycle Community

A blogger in Holland has posted about how the bicycle is a staple in Dutch daily life. Cars are prominent, as are motorcycles, but bicycles are much more than they are here in the U.S. Bicycles (and motorcycles) are a commonly used, and accepted form of transportation. When I was in Amsterdam in 1985 (has it really been that long?) bicycles were everywhere, and there were places for them everywhere. The system of bike paths was as developed and intricate as the general roadway system used by automobiles, and finding a place to park your bike was often easier than finding a place to park a car. In many places, it was faster to go to your destination by bicycle than by car because cars were not accommodated as well, either in the route you'd have to take, or where you'd have to park when you got there.

The US has become such a car culture that we often overlook the bicycle as a viable source of transportation. The fact that many of our cities are so spread out, and that bicycles are only looked at as an after thought in many areas, doesn't help. Recent gas prices have been showing many people the usefulness of the bicycle for commuting and general errands. This is something they've known in Holland, and most of Europe, for years. It's amazing. Imagine what that would be like here...

Read their full post HERE.


'Cool' has limitations

I've lost track of how many times I've been asked by someone, 'Which bicycle is best for me?' I usually reply with a couple of questions, the first of which is always, 'What kind of riding do you intend to do?' Most people don't know what kind of riding they'll be doing, but they've usually already got an idea of what kind of bike they want. Often times what they want, and what they want it for are not compatible. Rather than bike built for their intended purposes, they want a 'cool' bike. 'Cool' usually has limitations.

One thing that has always interested me is long distance, self-contained cycling. Touring. I AM interested in long distance competitions, such as the RAAM, but I know better than to aspire to that. Touring I can do. Consequently my favorite bicycle (for 18 years now!) has been my long distance rig: my Cannondale Tourer. Racks, bags, fenders. The works. It's not particularly cool, but it does everything I want it to do. My Honda ST1300 is becoming a similar bike.

This past Tuesday night I rode the ST down to Bakersfield for a seminar. From Fresno it's about 110 miles of long, straight, flat, dairy-strewn Highway 99. I've had the ST on a few multi-hundred-mile days in the three an a half months and nearly 7000 miles I've had it, but a good portion of those long days were mountainous and twisty. Fun stuff. This was the first opportunity I had to really see how I liked it (or it liked me) when the miles just droned on.

The short of it: Wheeeee! :)!

The long...

I filled the tank the night before anticipating the long ride. I took my usual 27 mile route to work and then left the office about a half-hour before rush hour. After I got out of town, and onto the ribbon of concrete known as State Route 99, I was able to settle into a grove. The stock ST does not have cruise control, or even a throttle lock for that matter. I know there are many riders who swear by their Audiovox CCS but I've found that in my part of the world, where it's long & flat for miles & miles, a throttle lock works fine. I like the throttle lock on my GS and use it frequently on long highway trips. The throttle springs on the GS are heavy and demand that you give your right hand a break after a while. You could either lock the throttle, or get off the bike every hour or so and practice the carpal tunnel exercise instructions usually included in new computer keyboards. I expected a similar situation on the ST but it was not to happen. When I first test rode the ST, I noticed how much lighter the throttle was. There's not a lot of pull coming off the fuel injector throttle bodies on the ST as there is on the GS's dual carburetor set-up. What that turned into on this long ride was a wrist that didn't get nearly as tired, nearly as fast. My hand and wrist still got tired, but it was from being held in one position, not from fighting with a heavy throttle.

However, the lightness of the throttle does have at least one drawback: it doesn't take much of a bump in the road to jiggle the throttle, even a slight bit, in a way that makes the bike lurch or hesitate. On uneven pavement, it can become quite difficult to hold the throttle steady. The ST is somewhat known for having a 'snatchy' throttle, but I wonder if the lesser resistance in the throttle may have something to do with it.

One thing I've found about the ST is how much aerodynamics play a role it the bike's being. On a bicycle, 75%-85% of a riders energy is used just to move through the air and to move the air around the rider. That percentage is dependent on speed; the higher the speed, the higher percentage of energy needed, used, or wasted (depending on your point of view). Motorcycles are no different. Especially with the ST and it's large frontal surface area. The dynamics of the windscreen positioning I'd figured out fairly early on. The higher it is, the lower the mileage is. Not a lot lower, but noticeable. I like the windscreen about 1/3 of the way up, most of the time. (When it's hot, I can't get it down far enough.) At 1/3 of the way up, it deflects most of the air and bugs over my helmet, but I can still easily see over it. In that position. I can open my visor most of the way and not have a face-full of wind. It also doesn't seem to affect the mileage too much.

The slipstream created by the very forward rear-view mirrors is hardly noticeable until you let go of the bars and pull your hand out of it. The handlebars are wider than the windscreen, but your hands and arms feel virtually no wind at all because of the mirrors. Put your hand on the tank or your lap and your upper arm gets a big helping of wind blast. There's also nearly no wind at all down near your legs. The space between the lower faring and the saddle bags seems to be void of any breeze. I'm sure that lack of circulation doesn't help remove any of the oft complained about engine heat away from the rider's legs.

One thing I noticed, completely by accident, was that dropping your feet off the pegs, drops the fuel mileage. On one particularly long straight stretch, I dropped my feet off and pointed my toes toward the ground, just to stretch a bit. At the 75MPH I was traveling, there was enough wind to keep my feet from touching the ground. (At 65MPH, my toes would touch down.) As I did this, I saw the fuel consumption-o-meter scrub off 3-4 miles per gallon! I thought it may have been a fluke, but I tried it four or five more times at different times through the ride, with the same results.

Also on the subject of ST aerodynamics: it doesn't take much of a headwind to increase fuel consumption. Likewise, a good tailwind decreases the consumption crazy good. Drafting near a semi-truck produces similar results, but taking an already inherently dangerous activity and making it that much more dangerous by riding in, or near, the blind spot of a semi to save a few pennies is just plain stupid. So, don't be stupid; leave the drafting in NASCAR.

At the end of the day, I'd gone 277 miles. From home, to work, to Bakersfield, than back home. I did it on one tank of fuel and still had plenty to get to work again the next day, getting 306.3 miles out of the tank before I filled it. It took 6.699 gallons for an average of 45.72 miles per gallon. I think it could have been better, but when you consider that I did most of the trip around 75 miles per hour, that number gets more impressive. (Even more so when you consider that it was California gas.)

The more I ride the ST, the more I WANT to ride it. It's not as exotic (or yuppie) as the BMW R1200RT I was looking at (and really wanted), or as flashy as a Yamaha FJR or new Kawasaki Concours (and, man, those are suh-weeet looking bikes). The ST is certainly not as 'cool' as the others, but it's is doing everything I want a bike to do for me.

And that's what's important.


Bicycle or Drive?

A few years ago - 1988 to be exact - I needed to renew my drivers license. I rode my bicycle to get it done. I rode my bike everywhere; drove if I had to. I didn't know I'd be getting a new picture for my license. I'd bet there aren't many other people who are wearing a cycling jersey in their drivers license photo.

I was pretty proud of that. I still am.